Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe my idea isn’t as much of a grabber as I think. Here it is: What if we discovered, today, a locked-in-amber moment that took place 84-years ago? A moment that was an exchange between two people, ordinary private citizens, and which was documented in a handwritten note? Does the idea interest you?
Let me sweeten the deal. What if I told you that this moment was kept from anyone’s eyes for decades. The documentation exists in the form of a letter written April 25, 1933, by a student on a rural Massachusetts college campus. His name was Compton, and he loved to write.
I am in possession of this letter.
Compton was 21-years old. His girlfriend, Gertrude, lived in Leeds MA. Comp and Gert (Comp shortened their names in his writings) dated in the early 1930’s. I own a stack of letters that he’d written and she’d saved until the day she died. I don’t have all the letters he’d written to her, and none she’d written back. Gert had saved over a dozen of Comp’s correspondence and I’m guessing that, in all her years, she shared them with no one. When she died in the early 1990’s, her belongings were sold and I bought the letters, right off her front lawn.
And just like that, a young man’s long forgotten thoughts were before my eyes.
He described a particular activity in a letter, which got me thinking. How often do we become privy to a vintage point-in-time moment, that’s not been pondered by anyone, probably since 1933? Does such an exposure happen often? Is such a discovery worthy of interest, or is it meaningless?
The event wasn’t earth-shattering. What Comp described was something that’s happened on every academic campus where students have had an opportunity to relax and talk. On one Tuesday afternoon, he sat outside with a male friend and they pondered life. Conceptually, the moment was very simple. What’s big is its discovery. It’s a bubble artifact, and it’s risen to us.
Here is the excerpt from Comp’s letter:
“After the class was over another fellow and I just laid down on a soft sunny slope and had a more-or-less heart to heart discussion of the problems of life. And what an afternoon to discuss any problems! Of course we did not reach any wonderful conclusions but perhaps we did get some good out of it.”
For a person of today–that’s us–to discover a bit of actual occurrence that’s been hidden within eighty-years is like our exposure to a long-lost fragrance. We are being let in on something that no one knows about. Two young men pondered life on a hill at Amherst College, in the Depression era. While we could have guessed this type of activity may have occurred in that time and place, we now know for sure such a moment happened. Its accounting has remained folded in an envelope, held tightly within other secrets.
We now know something that no one else has known. That is remarkable.
Comp’s discourse mattered enough to have taken place, mattered enough to have been recalled for Gert, and eventually, recognized by us for what it was. Comp’s meeting with his friend was a genuine moment in time. What we do with it, our response and savoring, tells us something about our era, as Comp gently tells us something about his.
Ara Hagopian’s latest book is http://www.LeavesOfYouth.com