With each passing year, my competence in conducting confirmation classes slips further, to the point where the digressions probably have more substance than the content. For some reason, at today’s class, letter writing was discussed. An inquiry as to whether any of them wrote letters brought a blank look of incomprehension, of course they didn’t. An attempt to explain the experience would have been futile.
Old fashioned letters were a delight; pages from a writing pad covered with words telling of everyone’s health and the local news and much that was inconsequential. In a letter, one had a sense of the writer, a sense that they had put something of themselves into what they had written. Letters from older people, used to the shortages of the war years, might reach the bottom of the second page and then go up the side and across the top in order that everything might fit on a single sheet of paper.
Old fashioned letters were a delight, but it is a long time since an old fashioned letter came. Correspondence requires two parties and being the worst writer of letters, I would leave letters unanswered and the other person would not write again. The line of the song “From Clare to here” that goes. “My Ma would like a letter home but I’m too tired for writing” always struck a chord. Of course, he wasn’t too tired to go drinking, only when it came to trying to write a letter home did the fatigue set in. To sit now with a blank sheet of paper and a pen would be an intimidating experience – how on earth did a letter begin?
It would be easy to suggest that hand writing a letter does not allow the flexibility of a computer screen where letters can be drafted and re-drafted, where paragraphs can be moved around or deleted altogether, where a succession of endings can be tried in search for a satisfactory closing line. All those thing are true, but email correspondence has gone the way of handwritten letters, emails go unanswered to the point where to respond would be an embarrassing admission of previous failure.
Perhaps letter writing evokes memories of having to write the weekly side of Basildon Bond home from boarding school, perhaps it’s connected with memories of feeling isolated, perhaps it lacks the immediacy of the telephone, where the Vodafone package includes calls to anywhere in the world; whatever the reason, to attempt a letter would be a process unlikely to make much progress.
Being honest, should an old fashioned letter arrive, it would likely be gathered up with assorted envelopes and mailings and put in the pile beside the desk, to lie there to the point where a response becomes redundant.