Letters Between Friends

Letter to Jukka, May 2018, Ocean of Eternity

Dear Jukka,

Thank you for sharing with me some of your recollections of your days in Lebanon … and recollections, too, of happy days back in Finland …

It was a privilege to observe the movement, the flow, of your thoughts, from those children in southern Lebanon, anxious in a real-world environment of “war games”, the ugly realities of conflict … (you mentioned your friend, Karim, a boy from the village) … to thoughts of your own childhood, and of your dear grandmother, especially … and your grandfather … and your proud father … and you, too, a proud father yourself … and a father whose thoughts turn then naturally to his own son … and this flow of thoughts itself like a river of so much rich human experience …

(And I can almost picture the bend, as you described it to me, in your grandmother’s favourite stretch of river, where you liked to walk together … And you must be able to picture that river so easily, so perfectly, in your mind’s eye, as if it flowed there eternally, in your vision of the world. And no doubt you name her like an old friend, this river; a stream of memory as dear to you, almost, as your dear grandmother herself).

I cannot judge but, from my perspective, at least, you are surely right, absolutely right, itself an absolute right, to be rightly proud of your work in Lebanon with the Finnish UN Peacekeepers back in 1988 – the year that the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces received the Nobel Peace Prize.

I should like to go on listening to your account of some of these key days lived so far, if I may; and I should wish also to hear more about your future projects – whenever time allows.

And there is time.

Time.

And time itself, like a river, somehow, flowing swiftly on, and on.

(From where does it flow? And to where?)

(Where, the source? And where, the sea?)

(Or is it, rather, like an ocean, of eternity?)

And the image that comes now to mind is of two friends sitting by a river – perhaps that same river that you pointed out to me a few lines back; and, as they sit there, these friends, they listen to the sound of the river as if it were made up of many streams of story, and of life.

(Or is it the sound of time, or something like it, absorbed in timelessness, that perhaps they hear?)

(Incidentally, what was the name of the traditional Finnish dish that you loved your grandmother to prepare for you; could you remind me?)

You began our conversation today by holding the side of your head, in some evident discomfort, and pain, and explaining that you suffer sometimes from periods of intense headache; worse than migraine, you said.

Let me finish here by wishing you soon to be entirely free, Jukka, or free already, of any still lingering headache, and liberated, in quietness, from any and all tension in mind, and in body; do be rested, and well.

It was a great privilege to sit with you; and a pleasure.

You have a great heart.

Wishing you a wonderful weekend, my friend.

Bede

© Bede Nix, Geneva, 18 May 2018. All rights reserved.

Letter to My Dentist, Madame Gontard

Tuesday, 6 November, 5 am

Dear Mme Gontard,

This letter is long overdue.  It should have been written – and you should have received it – months ago.  I write it now, at least, at last.  You strike me as a patient person.  Forgive me, then, this long delay.  Don’t think me rude.

I’d feared the evening would be another rather lonely, melancholy affair, and long and tedious as the day itself had been.  But no:  returning home I found your parcel, and what a lovely surprise.  Further to an earlier conversation:  Nicolas Bouvier, Le poisson-scorpion.  Words.  Connections:  connections between things, ideas, places, people.  A calling.  (But a calling to what?  To read, simply?  To listen, to learn?  A call to engagement, perhaps, to be close to what is there?  A call to understanding?  To compassion?  A call to go?)  Company, then.  And a sense of community.  And solidarity.  You raised my spirits at just the right moment.  Thank you!

Needless to say I’ve still not finished reading the text – another example of my perfectionism, of wanting to understand every word, every nuance, holding me back, I fear.  But I shall do so.  In fact, I’m slowly working through Le poisson-scorpion in the company of a French tutor, Loraine d’Andiran.  By strange “coincidence” it seems that she too knows the Bouviers.  She grew up in Collonges, I think, near the Bouvier home.

Damn it!  Why did I write that word?  And in a discussion of Bouvier, too.  Home.  What does it mean, exactly?  Where does one find it?

Is home where one lives, where one is?  This rather messy little flat, for example.  The city:  Geneva.  The country:  Switzerland.  I’ve been living in Switzerland for about six years now.  An extraordinary thought.  But the important question remains:  am I moving forward on my journey, am I on my way?  Certainly my life is rich in agitation, and often I’m gasping for more time:  to read, to reflect, to write;  to study languages;  to practise yoga;  to make music.  Another extraordinary thing.  I got married six months ago.  My family (wife and stepdaughter) live in Zurich.  I join them at the weekends.  Is home then the future, where one’s going, where one’s headed to?  Or is home, rather, the past, where one’s come from?  Oxford, England.  Distant voices, ancient history.  It would be nice to think that Bouvier succeeded in making a home of the journey itself, as if all the different roads could at some point be threaded together to make a nest.  I’d love to do the same.

Home as here and now.

I’m thinking aloud and not terribly originally.  My apologies.  One of the perverse pleasures I derive from sitting in the dentist’s chair is being silenced, effectively, with a mouth wide open as if to speak, or sing, or scream.  At such moments I’m a subject for a Francis Bacon canvas:  “the silent scream!”  And dentists themselves must be rather perverse individuals, I often think, as they invariably insist on engaging you in conversation at just such moments!  I much prefer it when my dentist does all the talking.  She speaks to me of yoga, of languages, of journeys, of literature.  And her words are company.

Warmest best wishes to you,
Bede

© Bede Nix, Geneva, 6 November – year to be recalled. All rights reserved.

 

Letter from John Berger, October 1997, Extract

Dear …

I was away in several places – particularly Sardinia – and so I’ve only just got your letter. I thank you for it. My regret (if regret there was?) was only that it stopped too soon. I wanted to go on reading. Not out of curiosity but out of appetite. For what? life … (a small “l” because it’s unnameable). Between what you write and what you are relating (whether it’s swimming or your mother or your biking sister) there’s the minimum of distance (which may be why you doubt so often?) – the words are intimate with, run intimately parallel with, what you are aware of. I put this clumsily. But never mind. The quality I’m talking about is (in my opinion) essential for poetry – but it’s also needed for philosophical research or invention – as distinct from philosophical erudition. So don’t choose yet. And anyway, as you say, the divisions – the so-called “disciplinary divisions” – are cowardly and mortal.

For company – like your letter is to me – I send you a little account of Sardinia.

Yes, work well.

John

Letter from John Berger, Quincy, 24 October 1997