So many of you have forgotten about writing personal letters. Is there no place in the world for time spent, writing one person to one person? Here is an art, crafting words for one other's eyes, that is practice for truth, for relationship, for empathy and presence. There is value in the old forms.
Yes, I know you are busy. Phone calls are faster, and hearing a voice is its own pleasure. Casual emails, dropping the formalities, get something said without placing too much weight on it. Barely personalized mass mailings of Christmas cards let you connect with the so many you know and feel for, say hello, I'm still here, I still care and still have time for your life. I thank you for those efforts of connection and care.
And I challenge you -- look at the letter. See, here: the date. Forever marking this expression as belonging to one point in time. Breathing the now of that moment. This is what I said to you then.
And the salutation: oh, how I have constructed and deconstructed the salutation over the years. I was taught, to begin with, that you wrote "Dear ..." as a form. It no longer meant that you held dear the person so saluted, any more than putting the knife on the right of the plate means you are taking special care to notice that the person you are setting the table for is right-handed. All "Dear ..." meant was that you knew and followed the correct form. And then, and then -- oh, the letters we wrote, and how we experimented, brash, wild rebels, with other salutations! "Hello, ..." "Good morning! ..." "Hi, ...". We might try "Dearest ..." in ironicool mode or "Old Chap ..." in Brit-derived semi-casual literary reference mode. We might even write "Beloved ..." in a wild access of self-unveiling and passion. And back to "Dear ...", with full import, yes, it is a form, and yes! it is a truth, you are dear to me, and I show it by taking the time to write, and I create it by trusting and believing and writing to you my truth, my self, these gifts of words. Dear reader.
And then the body. Room for improvisation. Simple, because all we really need is the intent to communicate. Newsy, because we have stories to share. Or want to be known. Stylish, look, isn't this beautiful? Don't I make these words worth the time of reading? Aren't I clever? Heartfelt, to reach you. Tailored, to show I have seen who you are, and I have chosen this for you. Containing gifts of information and appreciation.
Look! for you! this astounding quote I found today: "Through it all, listen to the stirrings of your heart and the calling of your soul. The ultimate purpose of spirituality is to bridge the illusory divide between the self and the Divine. (...) Spirituality is a full-contact sport, and you are called to participate in your own journey on as deep of a level as you can." Jhenah Telyndru.
Isn't that the heart of Christmas? How God sent his son to bridge the gap between Himself and us? And how our part, is to build our own end of the bridge, as best we know how to do it, and come to Him in the middle? And build our own bridges, one to another, recognizing one another as His children, His hands, His workings through this world?
And isn't a letter a bridge? An art, a path, a way? Not just the bridge between person and person. Like all arts, the bridge between who we are now and who we are becoming. Shall we become masters of something? What is your art? Is it reaching for perfection in the shape of a sentence, the color brushes of oil paint, a glory of expression of note, rhythm and passion in song? Is it getting through a day of career and family and home and still being sane at the end? Is it doing your work just a little better than the day before? Is it more self-awareness in that asana, or more devotion in that prayer? A martial art? Friendship? Marriage? And couldn't writing a letter enhance whatever art you practice? Or be its own art, its own ascent to the pinnacle?
Yes, the body.
And then, the closure. The classical form is "Your devoted servant," and who in our democratic present would want that? Who would give themselves to serve another, devotedly, voluntarily, and as a formula? Never mind that the closure would be returned in form again. There's something, in a meeting of modern equals, free men and women, that rebels against declaring oneself a servant. And so, we have, "Your friend," or move to dropping what exactly we are, and write, "Yours," all simply. Yet, that's too plain, does not carry our intent -- so we get "Devotedly yours," "Fraternally yours," "Sincerely yours," oh, yes, but really this whole possession thing is a bother, and it becomes just "Sincerely," for the less intimate letters. And sincerely is the new standard. To say we really meant it, we are giving, if not ourselves, then at least our truth -- a hair-thin distinction, isn't it?
And "Love," is the standard for those we are familiar with -- familiar in the old nearly family, shocked Victorian woman exclaiming with her hand to her chest "You are too familiar, sir!" sense -- for those we can clearly and unironically admit to loving, at least as far as a semi-form closing, 'cause writing "I love you" might just be too much.
And they all mean I care. From "Your devoted servant," to "Yours," to "Sincerely," to "Love," they all express our intention to connect, one to another.
Which is why we have the emerging alternate standard of closing by wishing someone well. "Best wishes," "All the best to you," "May you have your heart's desire," "Merry Christmas," "Blessed Be," "Live long and prosper," and many more. Room for creativity here. If creativity is what you want. Because original or form, the letter still says: Salutation: I care; Body: I care; Closing: I care. And that is the beauty and value of the forms, that even tongue-tied and self-conscious, here we can say and connect, in the tested and beautiful ways.
And so I take letter-writing as one of my arts. Should you choose this art, or should you choose another, may it bring you closer to the Divine and to the ones you love this season.