Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Words in the Wind

A young woman walks out to an old  rural mailbox and pulls out a couple of letters, standing in the cold as she looks through them, for in her haste, she wears no coat. Her eyes are alight with hope, as she scans the postmarks, almost naked in their pleading.  But there is no letter from him today, no news that he is still safe.  Her eyes grow quiet, two shining gloves in which a world at war lurks in  profoundly small scale.  The mailbox shuts and her hope draws itself in, like measured string being rewound into a spool

Thirty later, her children, one at the edge of the field, one  away in a straight line about 30 yards away, connected only by two paper cups and a taught piece of kite string. One speaks, the other listens, and hears  "there are 4 of them to our two. But we have the water balloons!" The words are simple but they are personal, shared between brothers in arms,even if one is a sister.

Another thirty years later, miles a part, a simple message  "hi, it's me just landed, I'll call after I get to Dad's, stay strong."

How our methods of communication have changed over the years.  Not long ago, sitting behind me in a Thai restaurant, four 20-somethings in casual business attire, all texting or surfing, the server unacknowledged but for an order made without consulting the menu, not a single word between them as invisible food was consumed with invisible fingers and invisible thoughts.

Just the other day, I sat in the airport reading a classic novel, on paper, no e-readerl while all around me people are texting. Now there are times that a text is better than silence, a quick stop to let someone know you are safe, or that you care, but too often people are doing it at the expense of the actual written word.

What would the books on my shelves, or the one in the hand of the young lady seated across from me be, if simply summed up in text?

Deliverance - tourists XperENs local hospitality

Frankenstein - Science progress big FAIL w genRL public. Ptchforks say STBU.

War of the Worlds - LEgl aliens wnt evrtng 4 frE

Twilight -  join d undead az alternative 2 college

Pride and Prejudice -i longed 4 him i married him crp

Soylent Green - locals hav isUz w regional cuisine

Romeo and Juliet -  Dny thy fathR n refUZ thy name, o if thou wilt nt, b bt swrn my luv, I'll n lngr be a cpult,

The Manhattan Project -sum of aL fears comin 2 a rogue n8tN near U

The Audacity of Hope - DBEYR srsly

Bridge on the River Kwai - brits cn whistle despite stiff uppr lips

The whole way the world interacts, communicates and connects has changed since our parents age. In a trunk in Dad's attic I found those letters my Mom wrote my Dad during WWII, carefully tired with still taut ribbon, the handwriting faded, words that traveled thousands of miles to England and back, carried by mailman and ship, to gather dust that gets in his eyes when he talks of her. In those  letters she is still with him, still young, more than just a shadow bound to him with a shadow of  ribbon.

Now, we instant message, we Skype, there's  Facebook  and web-mail and blogs, wherein the means of communication are many and the word "friend" has oft been reduced to an anonymous sign of popularity from total strangers.  ("Hi,  I'm Kim Jong-un, please LIKE me on Facebook!").  Maybe I'm alone in this, but to me friendship is not something granted to random strangers simply because they wish to claim it, but to those who, through shared experience, through laughter and listening and time, become  part of a complex life, on and off a computer.
Yet, this mass means of communication has its advantages, we know more of decisions being made that impact us, that threaten our way of life, even if much of it is twisted by the media.  We have to dig, dig hard for the truth, but at least the words flow mostly free, our view of the world, not just one radio show, or one newspaper dictating how we should think. From the lies we have to glean the truth, but there are still so many avenues to get to the truth that previously were simply withheld.  There's also the sheer learning of it, so many things at our fingertips to explore, to share.

But in a world where we are constantly chirping and texting, too often,  very little is actually being said, reducing human emotions to punctuations as if somehow a smiley could convey the nuance of a heart.  I look at Dad's letters, then, and his letters now, the degradation of the handwriting a sign, painfully clear, that he is declining, soon to leave me.  But his words are still as sharp as his mind, even as his hand sometimes fails him.

He writes of the family and the "steelhead that got away",  words of humor, of inspiration, of compelling faith. Sheets of paper that over 30 years have charted a course for me through adulthood,  abiding strength still radiating from his descriptions of love and loss, the papers having a weight to them of his life. A weight that will keep me anchored.
He  first started writing them when I went off college.   I'd read them on a train, for that is how I got back and forth to home on the occasional weekend, not being able to afford a car and tuition.  As I traveled, I penned my letters back, my fears, my thanks for Dad's support.   How could I have imagined this world today, where such things are expressed in acronyms and emoticons..   How do you explain what it feels to live, to breathe, to fear, to fly, in exchanges briefer than epitaphs, as personal as commands?

All those years ago,  I'd sit in that car and write my trains of thought,  words flowing in sturdy motion and time, their spaces containing the heavy load of pride and longing,  fear and desire. The  train barrels forward in steady progressions as moving clouds fly overhead and shafts of sunlight peer through sliding cars, into their depth. As others transmit through satellites and space, I watch the landscape from the viewpoint of the train. Structures of iron lace, the suddenness of buildings, clouds of morning mist all crossing my line of sight, my muscles straining with the curves through fog shrouded landscapes, moving with the train, thundering through empty fields of past loss into meadows washed with light.

But now, 30 years later, I am writing these words on a computer, miles away from the one I'd most want to read them, the mailman, driving past as I sip my coffee, no longer a troubadour for distant lovers, but simply the carrier of pizza coupons, junk mail and bills. The computer sits in front of me, framed in the window like a stage, the words in my head now, like the beginning of thunder, as loud as a whisper, and as electric.

There are still paper and pen, solitary objects of unspoken promise, of thoughts that flow, but I do not have them here.  I have this, and whether short words or long, I'm speaking my heart.  As  my fingers clatter against keys, the words pick up speed, splaying themselves out along the tracks going forward.  I am back on a train, running into the rain as the cars gain speed, waters cleaning the windows on which I look out out on life.  I hurl words into the darkness of an upcoming tunnel and wait for their echo.
 - Brigid


  1. After reading your post I had an uncontrollable urge to take pen to paper and tell Mom how much I love her.
    Then I realized she has been gone awhile. For a moment, I had forgotten.

  2. There's something about a letter arriving in the mailbox that cheers me like nothing else does.

  3. Well said, and the great loss IS the written (on paper with a pen) word...

  4. Well written, Brigid. I default to email nowadays, as it is faster and less likely to get misdirected. but there is something special about a letter...a package from far away home, that truly touches my heart, or hopefully the hearts of those I care about.


  5. "I look at Dad's letters, then, and his letters now, the degradation of the handwriting a sign, painfully clear, that he is declining, soon to leave me."

    I came across a note from my Mother to me written when she was in the nursing home a couple of months before she died. Printing. Shaky, but readable. I compare it to her signature in the front cover of the 1940 Hymnal I keep in my pew in the choir at church. Precise and confidently flowing Palmer script, it looks like engraving. I remember her writing from when I was a child. Even then it was remarkable. Even the teachers noticed.

    I still make a point when I'm out of town on trips for an extended period - a week or more - to mail even just a postcard home. There's something about a communication that someone created manually, that you can hold, that was made by and was in the hands of the person.

  6. Last summer I read a biography of John Adams. Much of the material is taken from letters he wrote, especially ones he wrote to his wife, sons and daughters. How will biographers know what we think and feel? E-mails are ephemeral, and as media and software change quickly become unrecoverable. Future generations will hear what we say for public consumption, but records of private communications will be lost.

  7. Wow...your writing always touches some part of me. You might be amused that I wrote my first book, and am writing the second long hand, in notebooks. I transcribe onto the computer editing as I go, but there is something almost cathartic about the words flowing out of my mind, through my hand on to the paper...
    Thank you

  8. I believe the last letter received at our house was the letter home from our son while he was at sea the first time, about 3 years ago. His skill with pen and paper are on par with his contemporaries, but this was not an issue; the knowing that he cared enough to write vs. email or Skype was enough. Having been on his end myself, and getting letters from home while at sea, he received his share and that of some shipmates, if only a brief note. Times change, but hearts? I like to think not.

  9. Well said. It's been too long since I last put pen to paper.

  10. I was looking for something the other day, I’ve since forgotten what, when i came upon a box that my wife had tucked away in our closet. curious as I’ve never seen this box before i opened it, inside were all the letters and cards I’d written during my deployments from various faraway places speicher, warrior, Kabul, etc... Feeling almost as if i had violated some sacred temple, i placed everything back hopeful she'll never know i found her stash.

  11. too many people use the term 'friend' too loosely... for me it is serious business... I found a quote long ago that describes my feelings on the subject... first, let me explain that a 'concha' is a type of pastry...

    "and the first loudly proclaimed, 'I would go up to the gates of Hell, for a friend!' and the other quietly replied as he bit off a concha's end,'I... would go in...'

  12. Since my handwriting would qualify me to write prescriptions, most people appreciate the fact I can run a keyboard.

    As you say though there is no suitable replacement for pen to paper.

  13. Brigid, your father will never leave you--not as long as your memory of him shines. My Dad is gone some 2 years now, but he's still here, still with me. I'm confident that yours will be as well.

  14. Skip's recollection makes me think of a similar recurring event in my life: in certain specific times and places I was -- sometimes still am -- startled by the feeling that under these circumstances I would always call thus-and-such a relative, but he or she is no longer with us.

    And then we have the effect of suddenly breaking a pattern of frequent communication, as exemplified recently by one Francine Fitzgerald. She was widely derided as a "helicopter mom" when she implored the Colombian authorities to track down her son and his girlfriend after a month of phone and Internet silence during their South American bicycle adventure.

    It turned out that they'd impulsively decided to take a boat trip down the Amazon and hadn't seen fit to inform anyone.

    Helicoptering? I beg to differ. Patterns as well as contents of communications have meaning. Whether the subject is credit card fraud, or computer hacking, or SIGINT dot connection, or the chance that your incommunicado kid has been taken hostage by rebel factions, or saw something a cocaine cartel didn't want seen, or bunted off a cliff by a bus on a narrow mountain road, one thing is the same. When rationally deciding how worried to be (pardon the oxymoron), you look for out-of-character acts and deviation from patterns.

    One quick phone call or text message would have saved untold heartache and a lot of official effort. Even then, Mom might not have been in the mood for anything on the late-late show involving quicksand, piranhas, anacondas, or poison arrow wielding tribes, but at least their silence would have been a known-unknown rather than an unknown-unknown.

    If their pattern had been one of backpacking and hostelling with only weekly or monthly use of an electronic umbilicus, or if they'd been known to get sent off to do {redacted} in the remote squirrel habitats of {redacted}, that would have been completely different. Fall off the radar after always being in sight and people will get alarmed.

  15. My father taught me cursive handwriting, the result was my style was so similar to his I could forge his signature. He was an art major (who ended up in a manufacturing career) so his cursive was perfect. Not only did he pass along that ability but, unknown to me at the time (later figured it out), it was my introduction to creating my own art. Passed along the interest, simply by pen and paper.

    That would have been impossible if it involved a computer.

  16. Skip - Dad and I were talking last night, and he let me know how much the letters over the years meant. It's worth the time.

    Auntie J - I have a few postcards from overseas received during travels the last couple of years in my office on a little board where I can see them as I work. I like that.

    Viv303 - I understand, there are days, weeks even, where a quick "hi" is about all I've time to do, catching up on even blog reading til I have a couple of days off.

    RonF - Dad's writing is the same way, Mom's as well. No one, it seems can write like that any more.

    Female and Armed - I keep journals, for long plane flights when I don't want my seat mate, reading my computer over my shoulder, for quiet nites I just don't want the dang thing on.

    Jennifer - but you know when to call, and always seem to know when I need it. Thank you my friend.

    Mick - hearts don't change. My best to your family and you son, may his travels find him safe and happy in his commitment to duty.

    Richard L - you did the right thing, but it's a comfort though, isn't it, that there is that place that waits.

    TR Smith - I've many internet friends that became friends off blog, they are indeed a treasure, but we're a small group, close knit and always watching out for one another.

    Ad Absurdam - that whole event was not necessary, not that it removed the parents worry. Even in remote places, I find a way to let someone know where I am, and if internet service will be non existent or sparse, they know that to, so if I don't check in for a few days, no one panics.

    If I go out of pocket there are people that know to check on me, or Barkley.

    naturegirl - I need to work on mine more, it's easy to get sloppy in the haste to get the words out.

    Dad is feeling better, getting over an awful cold. I'll be home in a couple of days.

  17. My father calls me, now and then, as he's done since I was in college: his employer had given him a cell phone with no limit on the minutes, and he would talk about anything and everything in order to stay awake while driving long stretches of highway. We talk on everything from marriage to the crystallization patterns of different alloys of steel.

    Rarely, very rarely, do I ever write; by the time he makes it home and sees the mail, we've often already covered the same ground on the phone. Still, I know he treasures letters. There's something tangible in those few, brief papers that can be held onto, unlike the thousands of words said and gone over the air.

  18. Our son went to sea this early morning, with the sequester SNAFU causing no small amount of consternation. Details not for here; suffice it to say "Questionable support". We'll know more after the Continuing Resolution SNAFU. Thank you, Brigid, for your kind words.

  19. Brigid, this is a priceless post that had me alternately laughing (the text synopses of those books need a beverage alert!) and almost in tears. I, too, like Mr. Ladner's wife, have a box of collected writings from my Dad (gone 26 years), my Mom (almost lost her last year), sisters, and other treasured folk in my life. On tough days, I'll open the box and find comfort in the memories these writings recall...

    There really is no substitute for seeing an envelope with familiar handwriting amongst the rest of the detritus in my mailbox.

  20. Andie - thank you (and you liked my goofy synopsis's. Yay!)

    I wish I'd kept all of his letters over the years, not just some of them. Good memories there.


I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..