Perhaps the most amusing form of The Letter I have come across was the smoking red-hot “HOWLER” sent to Ron Weasley by his Mom, in the second Harry Potter book, The Chamber of Secrets. Delivered by owl  post and dropped in front of him during breakfast in the Great Hall, it chewed him out in  LOUD CAPITAL LETTERS!  for “borrowing” his father’s flying  car without permission to get to Hogwart’s on time. The ranting of the HOWLER letter was not a private affair and echoed through the great hall for all to hear, finally self-destructing in a burst of flame, reducing itself to ashes. Powerful communique, point well-taken. And the point being, Ron Weasley’s mother in all her matriarchal authority was absolutely PRESENT through that medium.

As synchronicity would have it, after I started pondering the art of the letter and speaking in behalf of its beauty and personal immediacy, the Universe sent on little winks to let me know that I was on the right track. The day after I posted Part 1 on this topic, I nestled in with a new book given to me as a Christmas present, Jan Karon’s At Home in Mitford, a fictional work about a small town, it’s quirky people and all-too human lovable Episcopal priest who serves his church and parishioners humbly and well. Chapter 1, three pages in, Father Tim receives a  pastoral  letter from his bishop in response to his own, sharing the burnout and momentary discouragement he was experiencing as a lone shepherd. “He stared at the ivory envelope. There was no return address, this was not official stationary. If one did not know that distinctive, looping handwriting so well, one would never guess the sender….No, he would not open it (now), if only to see whether a secretary had typed it. He would wait until evening and the solitude of the rectory, and the peace of his newly dug garden..”

It’s all here in this little cameo..the essence of the Letter. First, the recognition and sense of anticipation, with envelope in hand, that one has received a gift, a  response and communication…an intentional “visit” that is personal and present. The unique handwriting identifies the writer as surely as the face and voice in person renews the sense of familiarity and kinship. Finally the saving of the letter for reading at a time and place of quiet solitude and attention acknowledges the importance placed on listening, being listened to, and continued dialogue.

How well I know the happy feeling of seeing a personal letter amidst the slick and glossy unsolicited flyers and flat business-like bills and the eager curiosity for what  news it might contain.  And like a Voice itself that identifies the speaker, the handwriting speaks the first “Hello!”  My own visual memories here are of my convent-educated Roman mother-in-law’s elegant flowing penmenship, all curliqued and artistic, perfect,  like the art and embroidery that was also part of the curriculum under the tuteledge of the Italian nuns. My daughter L’s strong, tall , widely spaced and direct handwriting, my dear Father’s thin and quavering writing in the last years of his life while he himself became thin and quavering, my former husband’s past-oriented, tight and tilting-to-the-far -left,  left handed signature in contrast to my own  futuristic tilting -to-the-far-right flowing right hand cursive. The handwriting on the letter introduces and subtly reveals the writer in ways that no sterile e-mail printing ever can! Literally, the human touch…

Taking this a step further, the very paper and uniquely personal handwriting itself captures the spirit of a person for the sake of history. In his excellent book  On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft , highly successful and prolific author Stephen King writes of his daily life : “My own schedule is pretty clear-cut. Mornings belong to whatever is new-the current composition. Afternoons are for naps and letters. Evenings are for reading, family, Red Sox games on t.v. and any revisions that just cannot wait”. I find it fascinating that with all the writing that he does for a living, (which requires many solitary hours for creativity), that taking time each day to communicate by personal letter speaks highly of the ability to maintain relationships.

Imagine the pleasure of receiving a penned note from such a famous person, whether you be famiy, friend or fan! Imagine that it was YOU who found that lone letter in an attic trunk hand-written and signed by Abraham Lincoln himself, and after authentification, knowing that this paper and ink treasure captured both a time and place in history as well as perhaps a new unknown window into the life and thoughts of a great man! The letter can be authenticated as original far more accurately than can be an e-mail in a file. It is a wonderful truth that many of the biographical treasures that are compiled and archived are in the form of collected letters of some of the great thinkers of cultures, who actually shared their brilliant ponderings, mindful meanderings, and life stories in letter form with colleagues or friends.

The Letter. Yes, it takes time to write. It takes time to read. It is about relationship  with another, but actually starts with relationship with yourself as you pause to center, gather thoughts, feelings and stories to share and remember. In its special way it is a form of intimate magic that can allow soulfulness to flow into into the long-distance human connection.

And so now, for starters, isn’t there someone right now who might appreciate a little Letter from you?                                                               Christine Phoenix-Green   February 2011



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