The week-end before last, I finished reading Love in the Time of Cholera (by Gabriel Garcia Marquez) on a flight home from interstate. I finished reading it about half an hour before we were due to descend, and I spent this time staring out the window (I always choose a window seat if I can), reflecting on the events and characters of the novel, and also contemplating any parallels with my own life.
One of the principal characters, Florentino Ariza, is what most would call a hopeless romantic. At one or two points in the novel, his mother proclaims that the only ailment he ever truly suffered was love. Indeed, he is lovesick to the highest degree, as he waits over half a century for the woman he loves, even after she rejected him and married another man.
From a young age, Florentino Ariza read many romantic novels and poems. In the youthful years of their love, he writes many elaborate, passionate letters to Fermina Daza. He writes so proficiently in this romantic way that he is later unable to write seriously in the form of business letters and reports when he starts work at his uncle’s company. Rebuked for the inappropriate lyricism in his business texts, he is demoted. In the meanwhile, he finds an outlet for his passion by writing love letters for other lovebirds.
I don’t think I’m anywhere near as extreme as Florentino Ariza but, whether it is a good or bad thing, I must admit I can relate, or at least empathise with him in this regard. Reading Love in the Time of Cholera has stirred in me the desire to write letters again — long letters divulging thoughts and feelings that are generally too difficult to say aloud.
In my final year of high school, I wrote long letters to some of my closest friends. Some of these were perhaps up to ten pages long (or more?), written on blank sheets of plain A4 paper. I wrote these for people’s birthdays and also because the final year of high school seemed like a significant milestone.
Of course, I have little to no recollection of the actual content of any of the letters, but I do recall writing them with some degree of fervour, and while the tone may have been jocular some/most of the time, I’m sure I was always sincere. (I’m pretty sure I signed off each one with “Yours sincerely” to emphasise my intentions to simply to write an honest letter.)
At the end of my intern year, I wrote Christmas cards for the pharmacists who had helped mentor me throughout the year, as well as for a few of the assistants who had also taught me a thing or two. My intention was to express gratitude to the people who contributed so much to my development as a pharmacist and as a person. Gratitude was my motivator, and I reckon, for me, it is a strong driving force in general.
I think there’s something about having sentiments written down, in one’s handwriting, that adds a certain gravity to them. I would say that it’s something to do with permanence, but it’s really not that hard to tear up, throw away or burn a piece of paper. Simply misplacing or losing a small envelope requires very little effort too. But I suppose the words are as permanent as the recipient is able and willing to make them so.
I’ve kept every letter and card that I’ve been given since high school. Some are still at my parents’ place, but I have the most recent ones in a box in the back of my wardrobe. Sometimes I think I’m hopelessly sentimental, but maybe it’s gratitude that’s made me keep them all. To think that people have taken the time to sit down and write all these warm words – sometimes even taken the time to find a suitable card – this inspires in me a mix of wonder and humility, and I am grateful that the writer even thought to perform this kind act.
In the past few years, having attended several weddings, I’ve written several wedding cards. I also spent one year (a couple of years ago) writing birthday cards for various friends. Colleagues who became good friends of mine all received farewell cards when they resigned (albeit some of these were group cards), and I’ve given spontaneous thank-you cards along the way.
But it’s been a while since I wrote a letter of the sort I used to write. And I suppose I don’t really know who I’d write a letter to now, or what about, but reading Love in the Time of Cholera has inspired me to write and, specifically, to write in this medium. I think a good measure of how well a novel is written is the degree to which it inspires me to write.
(More thoughts on Love in the Time of Cholera to come in another post)