As part of Keith’s PhD research, he uncovered some letters written between Richard Baxter, an English 17th Century Puritan minister and writer extraordinaire and Katherine Gell, a wealthy woman who was a committed Christian, wife and mother. She lost an infant son aged seventeen weeks and then suffered a period of depression and wrestled with many deep questions. They corresponded over a few years. Some of the letters were thought to be lost forever, until Keith found them – it was an exciting find – but that is another story.
However, their correspondence demonstrates the value of letters in documenting many aspects of life that are forgotten or overlooked. In 1997, one of my very dear friends moved to Cambridge for a year with her husband and three small children. Until then, we spoke most days by phone – sometimes for five minutes, or half an hour and we would share the minutae of our lives. During 1997 we started writing letters to each other – long, handwritten letters containing many details of the life of two mothers with small children, trying to be loving wives, mothers and serious about their Christian faith. It was a momentous year for both of us – she was living in a different country and everything was new. I had different significant things happening in my life. Rhonda kept my letters, bundled them into date order, wrapped a ribbon around them and gave them to me when she returned to Sydney. I had kept her letters to me. I put them all in a box and they have sat there until now, fifteen years later.
I have started reading them and am struck by the wealth of detail they contain that I had forgotten. They capture the essence of our deep friendship, our Christian commitment and desire to serve the Lord faithfully. They document the struggles we shared with our children, issues we faced with our husbands, books we were reading, people we spent time with, meals we had cooked, and our thoughts about many things.
It struck me that as a society, we have abandoned the art of letter writing. It is quite different to sending an email – you can scribble something fast and hit send, or sending a text which is filled with abbreviations and pithy expressions – again, you can send it while doing something else. To write a letter requires time and effort, plus a postage stamp and then you have to find a letter box!
As Keith discovered from his research, he gleaned much from the correspondence between Ricky and Katherine. There is much about 1997 that was blank for me, but these letters capture many moments – happy, sad, frustrating and character building – yes those hard times shaped me for good. They also cemented a deep friendship between two women prepared to share openly and honestly with each other.
Photo found on flickr by DY “You’ve got mail“