Advice, John Steinbeck, Letter Writing, Letters of Note, long distance relationships, Love, matters of the heart, Par Avion, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Shaun Usher, Skype, social media, thom steinbeck, Types of Love, Valentine's Day
Happy Valentine’s Day.
I have conducted many of the most significant relationships in my life almost entirely by telephone. With so many miles of ocean or freeway stretching between our houses, it is easier to continue our conversations from the comfort of our own homes. Always, there is something to talk about even when there is nothing to talk about. Before Skype and Facebook, I treasured long-distance phone calls with my mother, usually during the weekend when we could be less circumspect with the time difference and the cost per minute. Too, there were sporadic phone calls from childhood friends, the rhythm of home so achingly familiar, we fell softly into conversation, easily picking up where we left off years ago.
By telephone, I have delivered and received the most important news of my life. from that which cannot be shared quickly enough: “I got the job!” “We’re getting married!” “I’m going to have a baby!” “It’s a girl!” to the kind that startles the silence too early in the morning or too late at night to be anything good. From a village in Wales, my best friend from home, calling to tell me her husband was killed outright in a car accident: “My darling is gone! My darling Kev is gone! Gone!” From me in a hospital parking lot to my friend, who, waiting for “benign,” answers before the end of the first ring, only to hear, “I have cancer.” Two years later, on one continent, I wait on the other end of the line, while she on the other side of the world, enters my home and calls my husband’s name once, twice, and after the third time, “He’s passed away! He’s passed away! Oh, he’s so cold. I’m so sorry.”
Thus, two people are connected in an ephemeral silence that leaves each with nothing to hold on to.
Nothing but the distance between them.
Writing a letter is different, giving us time to shape our tidings with the very best words we have, but the letter-writing of my youth has fallen out of favor, snuffed out by e-mails and text messages, that, regardless of font and typeface, or supplemental emoticon, are just not the same.
I miss walking out to the mailbox and opening it to find the red, white and blue trimmed letter that was its own envelope, light as onion-skin, marked By Air Mail – Par Avion. I will always keep them – to read and reread – these immortal reminders of the people and places I treasure.
In part, it is this sentiment that is behind the Letters of Note website, a veritable homage to the craft of letter-writing. Editor, Shaun Usher, has painstakingly collected and transcribed letters, memos, and telegrams that deserve a wider audience. I am of a time when telegrams came from America and other places, to be read by the Best Man at wedding receptions, so when I ordered the book that grew from the website, I opted for the collectible first edition which is accompanied by an old-fashioned telegram.
Considering telegrams and old letters, and the heart laid bare on stationery this Valentine’s Day, I am reading again the letter of fatherly advice from author John Steinbeck to his then 14-year-old son Thomas, at the time away at boarding school and smitten by a young girl, Susan. There is both heart and craft in it, and the reminder we all need – ‘nothing good gets away.’
Steinbeck’s letter below can be found in the bestselling book, Letters of Note.
November 10, 1958
We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.
First—if you are in love—that’s a good thing—that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.
Second—There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.
You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply—of course it isn’t puppy love.
But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it—and that I can tell you.
Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.
The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.
If you love someone—there is no possible harm in saying so—only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.
Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.
It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another—but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.
Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.
We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.
And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.
Nothing good gets away. Happy Valentine’s Day 2016.