Of Letters And Words

I have a collection of letters in a drawer. Letters written to me by my husband in the early days of our romance, when he was travelling overseas and I was in Canada, before we decided to combine our lives. Others are small notes from my daughter, cards and scraps of paper, where she’s written lists of things she loves, or little messages to me. And, wonderfully, there is a letter from my grandmother, received many years after she died, when my uncle found it among her things and sent it to me.

All of them filled with stories. Stories of love and caring and growth and loss. Written in ink on paper in strong hands, curling hands, hesitant hands still learning their letters. Each one unutterably precious to me, releasing memories each time I read them.

One of my favourite books, A Venetian Affair, is a true story built from letters found in the attic of a crumbling palazzo, sent by the owner’s ancestor centuries before to the woman he loved but was unable to marry. History is built on accounts of events from those who were there, but also on the smaller stories found in letters and diaries, details of everyday life that give us a more complete picture of how our forebears lived. Consider how many civilisations are lost to us, simply because their words are lost. The Great Library of Alexandria was partially burned by Julius Caesar, then lost to decline and the rise of Christianity. Spanish missionaries burned priceless Mayan texts, considering them to be un-Christian. The oral traditions of the bards of this island were almost lost, until someone wrote them down. Even so, what remains is only a partial picture of what was. Words are important.

But now we live in a digital age. We have mostly lost the joy of receiving a note from afar, of coloured stamps and spice-scented notepaper, of bright ink on a pale translucent page. Letters have become emails, notes and invitations text messages. Experiences, memories and emotions all swirl through a digital forest of words, deleted, edited, lost forever. Will our descendants be able to comb through these words to find out who we are? Or will we just be known as the Plastic Age, our lives pieced together from packaging slogans and shopping bags from landfill? We are better than that, surely.

Of course, people do still write letters and send cards and keep diaries. But so much of what we write is online these days, including this blog. And we cannot keep chopping down forests to use as shopping lists or toilet tissue or yesterday’s news. But we can choose recycled paper and vintage note sets, or recycle old Christmas and birthday cards into notepads so they can be born again. So make your mark on the page, share your words, write a note to someone you love, or hate. Splash ink and pencil shavings and sealing wax, tie it with a ribbon, stick on a stamp.

But don’t let our words be lost.

Three Quote Challenge, Day 3

Couldn't resist the opportunity to use my star sprinkles photo again!

Couldn’t resist the opportunity to use my star sprinkles photo again!

Men at some time are masters of their fates.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars

But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

William Shakespeare

When I was in Year 10, we had to study Julius Caesar (the play, not the man) and memorise these lines as part of our homework. Cassius speaks them to Brutus, as part of a discussion about Caesar and how it is that he is their ruler, rather than some other, more worthy, man. What he is saying (as I understand it) is that they have only themselves to blame for not pursuing a path to glory, rather than it being the result of some divine twist of fate. We studied other Shakespeare plays during my time in high school – The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet – but these three lines have always stayed in my mind.

I have a single tattoo. It’s on my hip, and is a circle with a Celtic knot pattern. I chose it to honour my Celtic heritage, and it stayed fairly circular even through my pregnancy (though I did refer to it as the ‘celtic egg’ for a while). But the interesting thing is that, after I’d already chosen the design and had it inked on my skin, I discovered a bit more about it. It is actually called The Llewys Design, and is a representation of the twists and turns of fate, something significant to my own life.

So I think the reason I’ve always remembered these lines is that they speak to the idea of choice. That we have some say in what happens to us. Though I think Shakespeare also leaves things open to the idea of fate intervening, when he writes that ‘men at some time are masters of their fates.’ At some time, but not all the time. Sometimes, you can open a door and walk into a room and your life changes in an instant. That’s what happened when I met my husband. Oh, not because we had some lightning bolt moment of ‘this is it, you are mine forever!’ Rather, when I walked into the room and shook his hand my path shifted without my even knowing it, as did his, a pure twist of fate. The choices came later, when I decided to go to Australia for ‘a year,’ to see what it was like. Seventeen years, a marriage and a child later we came back to the UK, another unexpected twist.

While I agree with Shakespeare that we are, at some times, masters of our fate, I also believe that the fault does, at times, lie in our stars. That things happen to us that cannot be explained by choice or determination, but rather as part of some larger picture we are not yet permitted to see. And so, while we can make conscious choices that shape the paths of our lives, at other times it is as though the choices are being made for us, and we can either face them, or turn away.

And that’s my final choice for my Three Quote Challenge – thanks for reading along with me 🙂


I was nominated by the lovely Eilis Niamh to take this challenge, the rules of which are as follows:

First, you thank the person who’s nominated you.
Then, you post a quote you love.
Finally, on each of the three days you post a different quote, you choose another blogger to carry on. (ooh, not sure about that last one – however, we shall see)

Thank you Eilis! Once again,  I don’t have a nominee today, but if you’re reading this and would like to take up the challenge, please do 🙂