Monday, October 10, 2011

Social Media in the Stone Age, Part II

Letters. I shall always be grateful that there were still letters a generation ago. Among the stacks of letters we have stored away are two very important bundles: the letters that Eileen and I exchanged over the course of five years between when we first met and when we realized that we loved each other.

We met in January of 1990, when Eileen moved to Washington, D.C. after college. We became good friends. By the summer of 1990, she had left again, bound ultimately for graduate school at the University of Dallas. She visited again that Thanksgiving. Then, five summers later, we saw one another again, she moved back to Virginia, and we got engaged. In between there were many stories in both our lives, of travel, study, projects, work, even failed romances with other people.

And through it all, there were the letters.

I was a good correspondent with many people, and often wrote long, interesting letters (I wonder where they all are today). I still spend a good portion of each day writing "letters," although they are now in the form of emails or "messages" in Facebook inboxes. I would like to think that I give my correspondence the same (if not more) attention as I did a generation ago, but I cannot be sure, because I have no copies of anything I wrote back then (whereas I have copies of everything I have written the past several years--which is useful for a writer, because ideas are always germinating in the midst of correspondence).

Indeed, correspondence has always been a form of "thinking out loud" for me; my mind actually ponders things via the written word, especially if there is someone on the other end who I know will be considering things with me. Among my correspondents there have always been certain people who have been philosophical and/or poetic "muses" for me. Because of our common interests and my particular desire to communicate with them, they have always been able to get me to think and to express myself.

The internet has multiplied and introduced a certain chaos factor into this possibility for inspiration. It is easy for too much energy to flow into paths of bantering and chattiness. Still that is not my business online. Though it is true that a "comment" can often grow into something much more extensive, my preferred manner of communication remains sustained pieces of text. Those of you, my current "muses," whose inboxes are cluttered with my messages know who you are. In a way, thanks to this blog, all of you who are reading this are my "muses" today.

But what was the point of this digression?

Of course. It is only fitting that my richest inspiration, through the course of five adventurous years of life, ended up being the woman I married. There is something about both of us that makes a friendship of letters very appropriate.

It was a relationship that grew through letters. We wrote very frequently about a vast range of topics. And it was a true correspondence, with much giving and receiving on both sides. Eileen indeed seemed to have the unique capacity to surprise me by entering into my own mind (or perhaps I should say drawing me out) not because she thought the same way I did, but precisely because she thought differently. The difference, however, was rarely a disagreement. Rather it truly was--to use the worn-out word--"complementary."

And that element of surprise remains, even after 15 years of marriage and five children. Some time ago, we took out the old letters and read some of them to each other. It was surprising how much richer they seemed, how much more of the other person was perceptible in them, and the degree to which so much of our conversation was really about each other. It is surprising too how the unity of our marriage weaves through the common and complementary vocation we live toward each other, our children, and those we engage in the work of education and communication.

The letters reveal the possibility of a whole life to be shared.

I am glad that, today, both bundles are in the same place.