Why we need to bring ‘the love letter’ back!

One family’s discovery of their grandparents’ early love letters preserved a legacy of love and understanding that we all suffer to lose in our “text everything” culture.

Pixels Stories | Stocksy United

As the train pulled away from the Newark Airport station in New Jersey, a elderly woman, newly boarded, took the empty seat next to mine. She was returning to Philadelphia, having accompanied her husband to the airport. He was traveling overseas.

The woman took off her coat and sat down. She secured her cane between our seats. Once settled, the woman began ruffle through her shoulder bag. Eventually, she pulled out an iPad. I was impressed. “You go, Grandma,” I thought.

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It took the woman a moment to connect to the train’s wifi. Once she did, she immediately began to text someone. She wasn’t concerned for her privacy, texting on a large screen in view of everyone around her. Curious, I couldn’t help but glance at her messages. They were to her husband. They were love notes. A lot of them, in fact, appearing and disappearing steadily on the screen. “I love you, honey.” “I miss you already.” “I can’t wait until you come home.” “Wherever I am, you are the best part of my life.” It was touching, and for a moment I was grateful for this chance witness to married love.

These letters instilled in my friend a real, life-affirming sense that his parents, his siblings and he were born from a union of deep and tender love.”

The wifi went out temporarily, as it often does on Amtrak. Before it came back on, the woman’s cell rang. It was her husband. Now, over the phone, the two of them continued to exchange short, tender expressions of their love. “Don’t forget to call me when you land.” “Be careful.” “I love you.” After a few minutes, the wifi was working again. The woman hung up and returned to texting.

As we continued to Philadelphia, and as the texting continued, a sad thought entered my mind. Could I be the only one aware of this couple’s love? Surely, the couple’s children and friends knew of their loyalty and commitment. But were these relations aware of the couple’s affection, the tenderness of their personal exchanges, and the youthfulness still imbuing their now mature romance? They should know of it, certainly, as I now did. It was only just. But how would they know? Would they read the messages that I was reading? Perhaps not, it seemed.

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While reflecting on the fleeting quality of the text message, I remembered a story told to me recently by a friend. He and his siblings had discovered the love letters exchanged by their grandparents during their engagement. For my friend, these letters opened a window onto previously unknown aspects of his family history. He knew of his grandparents’ love for each other, but he knew nothing of the depth of their affection, or of their sophistication for expressing affection. Barely 20 years old, his grandparents wrote to each other in near poetry, reflecting deeply upon life and marriage, the world and children, and the future with all of its uncertainties. In particular, each wrote about the other, sharing their thoughts, hopes, and dreams for their partner. They shared their fears, too, but with a confidence in providence little seen today.

I thought again of the elderly woman sitting next to me. Did she and her husband ever write to each other? Did they keep their letters?”

These letters taught my friend a lot about life and culture in late 19th-century Europe, where his grandparents grew up before war devastated their homeland, but more importantly they instilled in him, years after his grandparents had died, a real, life-affirming sense that he, his siblings, and his parents were all born from a union of deep and tender love.

Remembering this story, I thought again of the elderly woman sitting next to me. Did she and her husband ever write to each other? Did they keep their letters? I certainly hoped that they did. I wanted their children and grandchildren eventually to learn what I had just glimpsed of their love.

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Do you love your spouse? Say it in letters. Keep these letters. Return to them yourself on anniversaries and other family occasions. Hide them away, but in a place where they can be found. One day, after you and your spouse have gone home to the Lord, your kids and grandkids find your letters, and they will benefit from reading them. They will learn previously unknown details of your life, but more importantly they will learn more about the love from which they were born.

Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau, OP
Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau, OP
Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau, O.P., is a senior editor at Aleteia. He teaches moral theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.

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