Some time ago Simon wrote a post about guilt. It’s here if you haven’t read it. In it he talked about the guilt we feel at getting rid of stuff that has supposed sentimental value. In that case it was photographs. In my case it’s letters.
I’ve been sorting through a box of letters over the last few weeks with a view to throwing them away. The box has been sitting on a shelf for around 25 years in one house or another. I had never re-read them until now and if we weren’t reducing our possessions I doubt I ever would.
The box contains around a hundred letters, from a group of people who featured strongly in my life: my parents, my sister, my grandmother (who has since died) and two very close friends. Over a few evenings I’ve read each letter carefully. Each one was handwritten. Most were surprisingly long. My sister wins the prize for longest letters at around ten sides. She shared all her news, thoughts, ideas. My dad often drew pictures on his. My mum told me how much she missed me. My friends wrote about the deep and meaningful stuff that clearly filled our heads at 20. It was an emotional journey.
Reading them has been wonderful but I know I won’t read them again. So why is it so hard to throw them away? I guess partly it feels as if I’m devaluing the time and effort of the people who wrote them. I feel guilty. Emails and texts are not so full of the person, their handwriting and drawings, the sense of them sitting writing.
A letter is a thing. And things are something we’re trying to have fewer of. But letters are also complicated because I don’t want to exclude them from my life. I love getting a letter. Maybe the guilt comes from the sheer number of them and how long I’ve kept them. Maybe in future I need to make sure I read and enjoy them but don’t keep them all for 25 years in a box on a shelf. And I’m sure that this could apply to much more than just letters.