A few years ago I read about a woman whose boyfriend died of cancer. She has saved all of the email and text messages they exchanged over a period of years, and she reads selected ones from time to time. I don’t think she intended to save them just to have them after he was gone, the ones she posted on the internet reflect their hope and belief that he was going to survive the cancer and they would be together for both of their lives. Whether by plan or chance, these electronic notes and missives still exist and have now attained precious significance. Her boyfriend, planned future husband, by his words and hers recorded while he was present makes him seem to still be there, just out of reach.
My best friend from high school and I stayed in touch for most of our lives before he died last year. I stayed in touch with his parents until they died many years ago. I cannot remove him from my contacts list on my phone, and I have a lot of email and texts that we exchanged. Like the woman, I never intended to save them all but now I’m glad that I did. What I lost when he died was all the reminiscing we would be doing about our high school days. I have no other friend with that much history. He was a cool guy in high school and remained that way until he died at age 71, way too early in life.
Emily Dickinson knew nothing of email or text messages on the phone, nor of telephones for that matter, but she may have captured the essence of what I and this woman are feeling, in this poem:
Death Sets A Thing Significant
Death sets a thing significant
The eye had hurried by,
Except a perished creature
Entreat us tenderly
To ponder little workmanships
In crayon or in wool,
With “This was last her fingers did,”
The thimble weighed too heavy,
The stitches stopped themselves,
And then ‘t was put among the dust
Upon the closet shelves.
A book I have, a friend gave,
Whose pencil, here and there,
Had notched the place that pleased him,–
At rest his fingers are.
Now, when I read, I read not,
For interrupting tears
Obliterate the etchings
Too costly for repairs.
For those interested, the piece I was reading can be found at Good.