Samara O'Shea

The Eulogy

If you recall, I was asked to write a Eulogy for the letter, and I have done so! This will be read (by someone other than me) on Sunday at the funeral for the letter. Of course, we don’t really believe she’s gone. But! This project was so fun and creative I couldn’t say no. Reader Mike put it perfectly when he quipped, “Stealing from Mark Twain –

‘The news of my death have been greatly exaggerated.’

The Letter”

Eulogy for the Letter
By Samara O’Shea

Good afternoon, we are gathered here today to say goodbye to our good friend, the missive. Also known as the epistle, also known as the note, but most commonly known as the letter. Her age will remain a mystery to us all, and her influence is immeasurable. The work she did spanned centuries and affected the lives of Kings, Queens, Emperors, Presidents, prominent business men, fashionable women, as well as we, the common folk, who simply had a message to send.

Throughout history, the sweet and savory letter was our once only means of communicating over long distances. She made her way across deep oceans and vast countryside. She carried words of love, of gossip, of ridicule, of sadness, of death, and of danger. You name the emotion, and I promise that at one point the letter held it on her light yet profound pages. Whether your message was dire and urgent or simple and mundane, the letter let you confess anything and everything you had to say. She did not judge. Those who received the letter may have judged, but she did not. She acted as the quiet messenger—kindly and openly receiving the thoughts of her creator. As Lord Byron once said of her, “Letter writing is the only device combining solitude with good company.” Yes, one could sit all alone in a room, while having an uninterrupted conversation on paper with a lover, business partner, or even a stranger.

One of the letter’s most extraordinary characteristics is her ability to effect the reader again and again. If I were to eagerly unfold a letter from my lover—anxious to read his tender, reassuring words—only to find him confessing that he no longer feels the same and he doesn’t wish to see me any more, then my heart would surely fall to the floor and smash into one-hundred pieces like a vulnerable vase. And if I were to read the same letter five years later, I might laugh and think “Oh. I completely forgot about that guy.” If I were to read the same letter twenty years later then I might smile—remembering fondly my young love and how I thought I’d never survive this broken heart. Perhaps someday my 13-year-old granddaughter might read the same letter. She might find it in a dusty box in my attic and she might feel a new connection with me—one she never thought possible. She’ll now know that I was once young and I, too, know what a broken heart feels like. This has been the cache of the letter all along. It never gets old, because the eyes that read it are always new.

Many an important moment has taken place through the letter. In October 1793, Marie Antoinette used the letter to say her final goodbye to her sister in law, hours before going to the guillotine. In March 1827, 17-year-old Edgar Allan Poe wrote his foster father a vicious letter saying he was leaving the house and never coming back. On March 12, 1901, Andrew Carnegie wrote a letter to J.S. Billings and declared that he would be happy to finance the building of sixty-five branches of the New York Public Library—costing $5.2 million total. In December 1909, James Joyce wrote a series of letters to his wife Nora in which he described, in great detail, his fondness for her flatulence. So you see, no topic is off limits.

And now, at least 100 years later, we have all of these letters in print to read and learn from. We can’t say the same for text messages. Or tweets. Or IMs. Sure, e-mail can be
preserved, but who goes to the trouble of preserving it? And so, we may bury the letter today, but I have a feeling we’ll dig her up again a few years from now, when we realize there’s nothing quite like her, and that quick communication does not always mean genuine communication. But that has yet to be seen, and it seems at the moment that people prefer the instantaneousness of it all. So today we say goodbye to our friend the letter. Our confidant. Our messenger. Our form of expression in both good times and bad. Goodbye sweet epistle. You have literally made us laugh and cry. So long, Farewell, Sincerely, Cordially, Affectionately, With highest regards, All our best, Be well, Parting is such sweet sorrow.