To have and to hold

From behind the curtain I am watching the birds in the garden. I am waiting for the hawthorns to grow tall and become a haven for feathered things. They are, for the moment, little more than bushes, but even so, every morning, sparrows and blackbirds, bluetits and doves visit my little patch. Ravens and jackdaws fly in most days, while Ani lies by the open door and watches, or bounds out to scatter them when she sees that I am watching. Every day, overhead, the great red kites soar majestically. Yesterday one landed on the roof behind my home and I watched, not daring to move for the camera, as the huge beauty surveyed its domain.

It was a rare privilege. Though I would give the proverbial eye-teeth to take a really good photograph of these birds in the wild there are some things you can only experience, not seek to catch. Had I moved for the camera I would have missed the moment; had I sought to capture it, I would have lost something precious. Some things are simply a gift from the Earth, just for you in that moment, to be enjoyed, cherished only in the heart… not to capture.

There are things, moments, that are so beautiful, yet so ephemeral and fragile that they cannot be held or possessed, only accepted. Like a sunbeam that cannot be caught, but only felt as it plays across your skin, or seen as it lights the rainbows in a diamond… or like a butterfly whose fragile wings are crushed by a child’s grasp at beauty. The ancients knew and told the story of Eros and Psyche… Love and the Soul…. Psyche could be with Eros only as long as she did not seek to look upon him and when she did, he disappeared.

By seeking to hold we can often lose the very thing that moves us. Yet it seems we are programmed very early on to want to ‘have’ what touches us, instead of being able to simply love something that is free to be itself.

Even language seeks to impose a degree of ownership on all we do, and particularly in regard to human interaction. Language conditions us and the careful choice of words can have devastating effect, for good or ill. While we may be aware of the effects caused by the deliberate usage of words in terms of propaganda, we unconsciously do the same all the time, not realising, perhaps, the insidious implications a single word can have.

Even the simplest statement… “I have two sons…” implies a degree of possession. We do not intend it that way, we may simply be using the easiest words… we may be indicating affection rather than ownership, if we think about it at all… yet the verb ‘to have’ implies ownership at some level.

Yet, when we possess something it ceases to be itself and becomes little more than an extension of ourselves… it loses more than freedom and autonomy, as its own identity becomes subsumed in our projection of our own. Even deeper than that, we often become, even in our own eyes, defined by what we think we possess… yet in truth, we come into the world naked and leave it the same way, so we possess nothing. We may think we hold things for a while, but the only thing we truly ‘own’ is our self. And even that is debateable.

As I watched the birds I was thinking about that. Would I want to cage a sparrow? No… I delight in their antics in the garden. I love them for their freedom. Would I want a red kite on a perch, just to say it was ‘mine’? No, I want only to see them ride the wind… though a little closer to the lens would be nice, I admit!

We all delight in the unexpected glimpses of wildlife. And, by their very nature, they are free… wild… unowned…untamed. Over the years a good many baby birds or injured ones have passed through my hands. While it is a delight to have that close contact for a while there is never any other goal, and no greater joy, than to see them fly free as soon as they are able. You are left with nothing but memories… perhaps a photo…with empty hands but a full heart. Maybe that is the only place we can truly hold anything.

On the doorstep…

Cerne Abbas (11)

Have you ever laid in the dew damp grass of morning and watched the petals of a daisy unfold, purest white, lifting its heart to the sun? Or seen a newborn creature take its first breath, opening its eyes on a new world? That was the gift I was given as a young man and I sat on a doorstep in the sunshine, talking of those questions that are hidden in each of us.

It would have been impossible to say who was the teacher and who the student as the spring sunlight poured down, honey gold and warm on one of those moments outside time where all that matters is opening the heart. The roles were continually reversing, as ideas flowed backwards and forwards between us.

Like the walrus and the carpenter, we spoke of many things, not sealing wax and cabbages, but equally disparate, yet somehow all with a similar theme. As if we were piecing together a puzzle. We spoke of jigsaws with pieces missing where, even though there is a gap in the design you can still discern what should be there. Even though it remains unseen and your vision may not be exact, the design gives you clues to what remains invisible and that may be enough for the mind to complete the unfinished image. We spoke too of pictures seen through the myopia of involvement and attachment, that become clear as you rise into the free air above them, seeing a wider view with a cleaner perspective.

Inspiration and intuition were discussed, learning to listen to those synchronous occurrences and odd ‘coincidences’ as we to listen to that inner voice… the gut feeling or the whisperings of the heart that often knows more than the mind can frame.

We talked about how our perceptions can only be our own. Even though we may nominally adhere to a particular code or creed that dictates rigid parameters within which we are supposed to understand…  our personal interpretation of all we perceive can be no-one else’s. It is unique to each of us. It can be manipulated, or encouraged into a particular pattern, yet there is a limit to how much that can be done, just as there is a limit to how much we can truly communicate or share with each other. Our perceptions are coloured by our own very personal cocktail of experience, action, reaction and understanding. Yet so often we see only what we expect to see, accepting the surface we are shown, rather than deepening our understanding through actively engaging with anything.

 

This led us to speak of the mechanical nature of much of our lives… the routine, the habit that keeps us moving blindly through the daily round and how different the world seems when we wake to ourselves and start living in awareness.

We spoke of the laws of physics and looked at them in a metaphysical light: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every trial, every painful experience there is an equal and opposite joy… a lesson available to be learned through opportunity. It may not make the lesson any easier, it will not make evil good… but within the darkness light can be found, if we are prepared to take those lessons when they are offered and carry them forward. This led us to speak of trust and how we learn to trust the design of the scales. And in that knowledge of trust and balance there is peace.

On the subject of balance we spoke of faith and the personal relationship with whatever we conceive of as divinity; for each of us has to find that for and within ourselves. We are poised, like the waist of an hourglass, between two modes of being… human and divine… and we embody both at that point of balance. The hourglass can be turned… sometimes we are fully human and the sands of experience flow through us from the physical world in which we move. Sometimes we are filled with something higher and that too flows through us. The point of perfection for us, whilst in this life, stands between the two; open to receive the sands from both, feet squarely in earth, arms raised to the heavens. For we are the hourglass… the vessel… through which light and life flow.

We spoke too of other vessels; how, without wine, a cup is merely an empty shell. Yet the cup is not the wine; it is something to give it form and shape. It is a container into which the wine is poured, and in which it is held, so that it might be lifted to the lips of others and shared in joy and blessing.

And we arrived at a conclusion of sorts…one which opens the way to many other questions to which we may seek answers…or not, simply accepting what is and what might be. That we are all vessels into which the light pours. We hold it within us, shaping it, expressing it through our words and actions, bringing it into the world that others might drink. Through any one of us, at any moment, the clear light of inspiration can become the wine of life.

Pancakes, sophistry and sacrifice…

It is Shrove Tuesday and in England that means pancakes. Not, you will understand, those heart-warming American delights, nor the elegance of French crepes, but ‘proper’ pancakes. For my sons, following in the tradition of the family that has spanned generations… several of which made pancakes for me as a child… it involves Mum armed with a hot frying pan, presiding over a conveyor belt effect of ‘next one’s ready’ and ‘how many more can you eat?’.

In the typical Pancake Day scenario, in our family at least, Mum makes up a huge batch of batter to feed the family. She spends the next hour cooking and deftly tossing pancakes for everyone else, ending up with usually too little batter left for herself. And having cooked so many for so long, really, the desire has all but gone. Just to add to it, she then usually eats alone in the kitchen before washing the dishes.

My eldest son and I have pancakes on the menu for lunch. It was a convoluted journey to achieve that goal, as he watches his diet closely and eats more healthily than anyone I know. Pancakes, oozing sugar, cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be counted as healthy. But he managed it with a little judicious sophistry and in a spirit of true self-sacrifice, deciding that it was the only way he could guarantee I would have pancakes myself and, indeed, actually eat today.

Pancakes and sacrifice go hand in hand. I wonder these days if the majority of youngsters, rolling them up and licking the lemon and sugar as it drips, know about the origins of the tradition… using up the rich foods like eggs and butter on the day before the beginning of Lent. In the Christian tradition, it was a day to confess one’s sins and be shriven… hence the name of the day… and prepare for the time of sacrifice to come.

I have often thought how the role of the cook on Pancake Day echoes the tradition behind it. Yet there is a deeper level to sacrifice, however, than merely giving up the odd luxury or a little time and effort. We see it in action all the time, though it often goes unnoticed or unrecognised, because the very nature of true sacrifice is that it is done quietly with no thought of gain or praise. When we genuinely put the good or well-being of someone or something before our own there is no thought of self. Yet in doing so, we gain something far more precious than that which we give up.

Sophistry can come up quite a lot where sacrifice is concerned. We can be very good at it where our own desires and wishes get in the way of loving sacrifice, reasoning and arguing with ourselves against the prompting of the heart. And it is often these inner whispers that are behind our moments of greatest beauty. There are opportunities in every life where we have a chance to do something simply and cease to think of anything other than the moment.

History and theology are peopled with those who have given their lives or their lifetimes to a belief, or an ideal. These are the ones we see as saints, or the movers and shakers of humanity… the ones whose passion made a difference on a global scale. Yet in every street, every day, small sacrifices are made. I call them ‘small’ only in comparison to those that visibly affect the whole of humanity. To each of those benefiting from them, they can make a world of difference, and the ‘cost’ to those making them is the same. They are giving something of themselves. And they are doing it with love.

Whether these sacrifices are inspired by their love for an individual, an ideal or their God, love is the common thread that binds them. And I have a feeling that these seemingly small, quiet sacrifices do affect humanity on a global scale, radiating unseen, but not unfelt, through our lives and perhaps the evolution of our race as a whole.

It is an odd thing, but a beautiful one, that true sacrifice, as with love given freely from which, I think, it stems, demands nothing in return. Not acknowledgement, nor praise, nor the return of what is offered. Yet it breaks all the rules of supply and demand, for the more we give away, the more we have to give.

Riding the rapids

 

I feel like a limp rag at the moment. It has been a hectic few weeks… just an accumulation of small things. Most of it has just been busy, some of it, behind the scenes, has not been so good and it is that side of things that has me feeling as if I had been squashed by a small but determined behemoth.

Not that it matters. There is  always Stuff to be done, regardless…  and a dog who seems to think it is fun to bound through the deep and muddy puddles in the fields every day, leaving me with floors to scrub, just for good measure. She also seems to think it is her bounden duty to keep the door between my shivering carcass and the frozen world wide open by parking her backside in it. However, it is a backside I love and her lunacy keeps me smiling even in the worst moments. She reads me so well I am sure she chooses to be more idiotic than usual when she knows I need to smile.

And we all have them, don’t we … those ‘worst moments’? Life seldom follows our hopes and dreams, nor does it always flow gently. There are rapids and currents, white water and hidden rocks and while some seem to have found a current of smooth silver that sparkles in the sunlight, it is impossible for the casual observer to see what lies beneath the beautiful reflections and shimmering ripples.

But,  it is not the course of the river that defines who we are… no matter how battered we may seem by the rocks and eddies of the stream. We define ourselves by our own actions, by our thoughts and choices and it is neither feasible nor possible to expect others to know or understand the myriad combinations that have led any one of us to a particular fork in the river. We cannot know over which pebbles a drop has flowed or where the mud has clouded the water. We see only the part of the stream we have shared and have to do our best to understand each other with that limited knowledge.

Yet there is another way. If we cannot know the whole story of another, we can know our own. We cannot always know what has guided the path of others, but we can, with inner honesty, know ourselves. It is not an easy thing to look within and see ourselves as we truly are, though ‘Know Thyself’ is possibly the most oft-quoted phrase in the world of spiritual seeking. More often than not we look only at the reflection of self that we see in the stream… a reflection we have created and projected onto the moving waters of our personal world. It may not be pretty, it may not be what we would like it to be. Ripples will distort it, clouds and foam will shadow it… but it is ours and familiar… comfortable.

Yet the reflection is not the stream. Nor is it the reality it mirrors.

 

That reflection is our focus, and others looking on may find their gaze drawn there also, into the flowing waters of the stream of life… yet what is reflected there is real. It stands above the water, separate. It stands in quiet stillness upon the bank and is not pulled by currents or battered by rapids, seeing a wider view of the landscape… looking back to whence the stream has come and forward to where it flows. It may see the waterfall ahead and understand the currents, or the tumbling wash over jagged rocks that explain the roiling pools. It sees too those calm places where the reflection is perfect and gazes back with clear and knowing eyes.

If we can live in the awareness of that true self and not in the rippled reflection, knowing ourselves for who and what we truly are there is a deeper peace and a greater understanding of the tides which move us, each one of us. In learning to see ourselves, our actions and choices in a clear and ever present light we glimpse that wider landscape and see that no matter what the stream is doing or how it churns the reflection, we remain. We can drink from the waters of life and find them clean and pure and as we stoop to drink our image comes closer to meet us… and as we drink they kiss and become One.

A link in the chain

sunset over the hills

“… and one of these days you will know a world in which I no longer exist.”
“I don’t know that I can imagine that.”
“Possibly not. I have always been part of your world. Before you were born, you could say that I was your world… all your physical experience, at least, came through me…”
“Hmm. Hadn’t thought of it quite that way before…”
“…so a world without me is not within your experience, and might be as hard for you to imagine as a world without you. No point of reference.”

The subject of mortality had been brought to our attention by the passing of a neighbour and friend, a woman whose kindness and wisdom had brought something special to the world. The simple Quaker funeral of a shared silence had been both beautiful and moving, as we each turned our thoughts to how her presence had changed our lives, making the moment one of gratitude and recognition instead of an occasion given solely to grief. Her actions had been the small ones of every day, her life outwardly unremarkable… and yet she had made a huge difference to the lives of her family, friends and neighbours. From her funeral to a deeper conversation was not a big step.

It was an interesting discussion. Because most of us live what we consider to be rather ordinary lives, we do not realise how big an impact we might make. We seldom think about how different things might be for others had we not been around. What might, or might not have happened had we never been.

For a start, how do you imagine not being? You might imagine your own demise… and, in melodramatic moments, there may even be a vague satisfaction or discontent when you consider the aftermath of that event within your intimate circle. A sort of ‘you’ll be sorry when I’m gone’ scenario… even though you will not be there to know about it.  You may be able to picture a future from which you are missing… but when you do so, you are looking at it through your own eyes and therefore it is a false image… you will not be there to see it. The ‘you’ you are now will no longer exist.

Even less can we conceive of a world in which we have never been. Any attempt to subtract ourselves from the reality we know, will have so many ramifications that such a world truly is impossible to imagine.  The thousands of lives we have affected or will affect, directly or indirectly, from the moment of our conception, down the generations, to the furthest ends of time, would each of them be changed had we never come into being. Many of those lives might never exist, were we never to have been. Subtract just one person from existence… not by death, which is a natural part of life, but by erasing them from the annals of time altogether… and the whole course of human history would inevitably change.

It is difficult to accept that any one of us could be that important. We are conditioned to think otherwise… we are, most of us, too small on the stage of history to play much of a part, or so we believe… and yet every one of us is a necessary link in the chain of human being as we know it. The smallest action of least of us can create a domino effect through countless lives and generations, and we have no way of knowing where the chain reaction might end or what it might ultimately inspire.

Does it serve any practical purpose to know that one of our descendants, generations into some unknown future, might find a cure for cancer or invent the device that will damn the world? Perhaps not… we cannot control the future to that extent. We can only help shape the possibilities that come within our reach. And that we can do.

We are not only essential links in the chain of existence, but we are, inevitably, each of us teachers too. The way we live our lives sets an unconscious example that may inspire others, or against which they will react and rebel. The way in which others react is out of our control… only our own choices and attitudes are within it, and most of those are our own reactions to or against the actions of others. It is a complicated web of interaction, and we are responsible for our own thread within it.

We may never know how our actions affect the lives of others. A simple smile may light up an otherwise dark day for a stranger in the street, a small kindness may alter a mood, every word we speak and every action we take may be an example for someone else. We do not need to know what effect our lives may have in the greater story of humanity, but we owe it to ourselves to walk in awareness of the infinite possibilities that surround us every day.

At the end of the funeral, everyone present had reached out to shake the hand of their neighbours, a simple human touch. Faces were solemn as we paid our final respects, but it was remarkable how many eyes smiled at each other, as each of us remembered our friend. It had been a silent celebration of a life well lived… one small thread in the story… but one which touched the heart and set an example of empathy and care that many will carry forward into our own lives.  “She shone, you know. There was just something about her…” said my son. Just by being herself, our friend changed the world. So can you.

Cutting deep…

Image: Pixabay

I watched with a curious fascination as the wicked scalpel was drawn across the skin, blood following in its wake. Somehow both detached and yet deeply, intimately engaged. It was an oddly disturbing feeling. It was, after all, my own flesh that was being deliberately and slowly sliced with great precision.

It had been my own fault. And a mental note was made, along with a swiftly administered metaphorical kick to be more careful with oyster knives in future. Just a small slip, but that is all it takes to cut a tendon. So there I was, under local anaesthetic, watching two surgeons repair it, and feeling oddly like a puppet as they retrieved the severed ends of the tendon and twitched my fingers without my voluntary participation. And I could not understand at all why they hadn’t just put me to sleep.

This happened a long time ago now, but I remember that it was quite fascinating to watch, in spite of my normal aversion to seeing sharp and shiny things pierce skin. The actual piercing of flesh has always been a dodgy area for me; I’m fine with anything else, not in the least bit squeamish, which is just as well given two sons who managed to get damaged in the most creative ways as they grew up. I wouldn’t say they were accident prone as much as adventure prone. The combination of, say, a hill, a bare back and a skateboard, for instance, or a mountain bike pointed down a steep slope… And don’t get me started on screwdrivers!

Any claims that it might be hereditary are neither here nor there. However, I digress.

I have spent the past couple of weeks having various areas of my anatomy threatened with more surgery. I am not happy with the prospect and shall resist until all other options have been exhausted. I may have to give in at some point, though not yet, I hope. I have no desire to go under the knife yet again.

Blades cut both ways… They expose and remove the unwanted, damaged or dangerous. They can  reshape, and rework where there is need. And we are not just talking about surgery here. A sculptor’s knife creates, subtracting from the unformed mass to reveal and define form and beauty. A sword can take life or cut the bonds of a prisoner and a blade separates mother and child at birth.

With life too, sometimes there are moments when we feel the sword poised above us, or the sharp bite of the blade. There is no escape from the pain when these events occur. Only time heals, as with any wound. Yet there may be grace within the blade that is not at first obvious.

Qabalists speak of Geburah, and that sphere has been named the cosmic surgeon, its function to cut away all that is effete, outmoded and no longer serves evolution. For us, mere mortals, that blade may cut deep, clearing from our lives that which holds us back. It may allow us to measure ourselves against who we are and who we can become, testing our courage and endurance to the limits. Yet these moments can carry possibilities of freedom we may not see while grief has us in its grasp.

Sometimes, from surprising sources, great beauty is brought into being. I think it was Picasso who said that there is no act of creation that was not, first of all, an act of destruction. Sometimes our greatest opportunities for growth and change are born from the darkest events of our lives and the hand that wields the blade, though it does so with sure strength, may be surprisingly tender and moves only with love.

The peripatetic ant

The ant crawled across the windscreen of the car, right in my line of vision. Ever since the spider-bite incident, I am wary of creatures that have any kind of personal arsenal hitching a ride, so my first thought was to defenestrate the little blighter. It was only a split second later that I realised how far he was from home.

I had been driving a good half an hour without stopping, so he had probably hopped aboard before I left. Ants are social creatures, pretty much defined by their role within their community. What, I thought, would a lone ant do if he suddenly found himself in unfamiliar territory, miles from home?

Would his sense of belonging be so decimated that he would curl up and die? Would he find another community… and if he did, would he be accepted or slain as an intruder? Or would he begin the long trek home, drawn by some unseen force to the place of his beginnings?

I couldn’t do it. I left him to wander the dashboard, hoping he would understand that all he had to do was let the journey take him where it would, before it carried him home.

I thought about him a lot as I drove, wondering what his reception would be after the journey? What tales might he communicate to his nest-mates about the big, wide, world out there and all the things he had seen. Could they believe him? Like the fantasy hero who steps into a magical time and place, he would have been gone no more than an hour or two from his home, yet his odyssey would have carried him as far as a worker-ant might walk in a dozen ant-lives. Would they accept his fantastic story or think him delusional?

Ants who had never set foot outside the colony would almost certainly dismiss his tale. Those who had ventured out, but only within the known confines of their territory, might doubt. Some would be envious, others would scoff. The likelihood is that only those who had themselves risked stepping beyond known ground, exploring the world on behalf of the colony, would see the glimmer of truth and recognise an echo of their own explorations in the traveller’s tale.

And what of the little ant? Was he afraid of the unknown, or excited to explore new and unimagined realms? Did he recognise the landscape that flew by at such speed as being akin to his home, or did he feel as if he had been plucked out of his world and transported to some magical otherworld by a giant with a roaring steed? How would he see life-after-journeying? Would it seem flat and boring, or safe and comfortable? Would he cower in corners, afraid of stepping outside his comfort-zone ever again? Would he ‘dine out’ on his travels, boring is nest-mates with tales of ‘when’ and ‘where’? Or would the change in his circumstances and perspective have been so dramatic that he would spend the rest of his life pondering existential questions or striving to be worthy of the privilege he had been accorded?

Such musings occupied my mind until we once again reached home and I set him down on the grass beside my parking space. Like the ant, I had taken a journey, within the journey that is my life. Because this was ‘my’ world, the destination and the route were both familiar to me, though there are always unknowns on the way and no-one can predict what will happen, or how the comfort-zone of familiarity will be challenged… especially when you look at life as a journey.

There is beauty to be witnessed, there are mysteries and magic to be found; we never know when or where, nor do we know how we will greet them or how others will react if we try to share such experiences with our own community.

I watched the tiny creature scurry away into the grass. I suddenly wondered what I had done and whether my interference, though well-intentioned, had produced the right effect. Had I set him down anywhere near his home? What if he’d been with me a while… had come from my son’s home or the supermarket… and was now lost in some strange landscape? Had my intervention caused more harm than good? Or was he destined to be a blackbird’s breakfast no matter where he wandered?

To some questions we will never have answers, but I felt a keen sense of kinship with the ant as he disappeared beneath the grass. We are both on a journey. It will carry us where it will and we will experience what we must… and we are both on a greater journey still, finding the way back to the beginning.

Glimpses Beyond…

*

‘A wonder of a land,

the land of which I speak.

We behold but are not often beheld.’

*

Perfected art can accentuate things,

and make them more attractive to the eye and mind,

but it cannot enhance the innate spirituality which men of all ages have held.

*

There seems never to have been a time

when tribe, race or nation did not hold

some sort of belief in an unseen world

inhabited by unseen beings.

*

Everything which can be said to exist is natural,

yet the Holy-Man who experiences the spiritual condition of ecstasy

cannot adequately explain it to the man who has not known it.

*

If the Ancients possessed an arcane language

to encompass such psychical experiences,

it still remains a secret.

*

But the natural aspects of the countryside impress Man

and awaken in him the Subliminal Self

which in turn inculcates an ability

to first feel, and then know,

otherwise subtle influences.

*

What is there in cities to awaken Man’s intuitive powers,

which is comparable to the magical solitudes of Nature’s environs?

*

Whenever a multitude of men and women are herded together

one finds an unhealthy psychical atmosphere,

never to be found in the countryside,

which tends to inhibit the Subliminal Self

in its attempts to manifest itself in consciousness.

*

Instead of Nature,

men and women living in cities

have civilisation and culture.

*

You’ve got mail…

I thought it was too easy.

A week of long, fraught hours, early starts and late finishes, coupled with some bug or other to sap my remaining energy, ended with technical glitches… and, just for good measure, the internet went down too. By the time I got all that sorted, I was about ready to call it a day, grab a hot water bottle and retire, but I still had all the catching up to do…

Except, somehow, it didn’t seem to take long.  An hour later and I was left only with the photo -prompt entries to read.  That was a result!

It was also weird. My inboxes do not get away lightly as a rule, but they have been very quiet the past few days. Suspiciously so. Then I noticed the number of unread emails in my spam folder and groaned… for some reason, hundreds of the things had been automatically routed there, and I was going to have to go through the lot.

Cursing and grumbling, I went through the sender and subject of every darned email, returning each one to the appropriate folder. It took a while. I have not had much energy left at the end of the day, so for the past few days, I have not emptied my spam and delete folders before bed as I usually do. And apparently, this problem has been going on for several days.

I double-checked what was left, making sure that any personal, important or school-related stuff had been safely sequestered, and hit delete on the rest, trying not to feel guilty.

I thought, as I did so, how instant communication has changed our lives. We can speak to people across the world in real time… even face to face with free video calling if we choose… and couldn’t help thinking about how our emotional response to communication has changed too.

I used to love getting letters, because… unless they were bills… they were always full of news and details about friends, family and loved ones. Some I would read and re-read… savouring them… and some have been kept for decades as tangible pieces of personal history, love and friendship. I actually got a letter today… with a proper, handwritten envelope and an intriguing postmark… and felt the once-familiar quiver of excitement. It was such an unusual occurrence that I left it on the desk for a while unopened to prolong the sensation. I could not imagine who it might be from, and when I did open it, was thrilled with the unexpected contents.

You seldom get that feeling from an email. In fact, the two most prevalent sensations, for me at least, seem to be a feeling of obligation to respond immediately and guilt if I don’t.  And then I feel guilty that I am feeling guilty, because I know that any pressure is coming from me rather than from the sender’s expectations… and I should know better.

On the other hand, I love being able to stay in touch so easily, with no waiting on tenterhooks for replies that took weeks by snail mail. I would hate to lose the ease of communication we have today… even a few hours with an enforced lack of access feels strange and frustrating. Yet, most email communication is pretty terse and to the point, including mine. Most of us use a different ‘voice’ with electronic communication than we would use in writing a letter. There is less of ourselves on the screen than there is on the page. Perhaps it is a hangover from many of us having first used email for business purposes.

I always found a personal letter to be a very different thing from an email, and emotions are often easier to express in writing than they are in person. Face to face, many of us find our words constrained, out tongues tied, and our feelings difficult to express… even with those to whom we would say the most if we could only find the words.

And yet, (apart from the dratted bills, which I am convinced are sent by demons with a warped sense of humour and execrable timing) behind every communication, in no matter what form it arrives, is another human being. ‘To communicate’… it is a verb, a ‘doing’ word, and comes from the Latin for ‘sharing’ and that should say it all really. Communication is always a sharing… there may be as much being shared in the space between the words as in the words themselves, and even a delayed response may tell its own story.

We may not pour our hearts onto the screen in the same way as we might once have poured them into our letters, but there is always a heart behind the fingers that type. Each heart has its own story, and while some may be closed or hardened, others stand wide open, waiting to share all they hold. Whether we communicate with laughter or with silence, in clipped phrases or in flowery periods, we are always speaking heart to heart, even if we do not realise it at the time.