Martha Gellhorn to Robert Capa
|A LETTER NEVER WRITTEN
Caroline Moorhead's biography of Martha Gellhorn was published in 2003. in 2006 she also published a volume of Gellhorn's Collected Letters. Gellhorn wrote the following letter to Robert Capa, a war photographer, years after he was blown to pieces in 1954 by a landmine in Indochina (Vietnam). Gellhorn knew this. The whole world new it. Here is the letter:
This letter is too late. Far too late. You will never receive it because I shall never post it. And even if there were deliveries of unposted letters where you now are, you would still not get it because this letter was never written and never will be written. Does any of this make sense to you? For Christ's sake I hope it does because it makes no sense to me at all and if you were to call me insane you would probably be right even though I don’t feel insane. But then, the insane never feel insane and half the time they probably wonder if the rest of the world had gone crazy.
You and I had always understood each other and often felt the same way about things we had seen and things we hadn’t seen but heard about and this phenomenon of oneness is a very rare thing which only few people ever have and you and I were of the few. And what makes this even more a thing of a marvel is that we were born thousands of miles apart, separated by ocean, language and sex, and we weren’t even lovers – ever. You were a brother to me with no genetic links and we were brought together from time to time by fate, like a pair of jacks in a giant poker hand.
Do you believe in fate? Do you believe that if it is written in the book then that's how it will be and there is nothing anyone can do about it? Is this why you fought with a camera and not with a gun? Is this what made you brave? Or should I say careless? Is this why you were blown to pieces in a faraway country in a conflict which won’t even rate a footnote in the pages of history.
And what about me, the survivor. Does anyone care even half as much as a cat’s whisker about what’s written next to my name in that celestial book? Right now I feel like an ancient ruin left standing to remind people of times past? And I miss you. Miss you very much.
You know, darling, I’ve often wondered how it was that without ever corresponding, we would just turn up at the same places at the same time? Bumping into each other unexpectedly as if we were pawns on a giant chessboard moved hither a thither by an unseen hand. Have you ever thought of that? Or was it perhaps some kind of extrasensory awareness of each other? Something beyond human comprehension? And if so, was it mutual or was it one-sided? Would you turn up because I was there or was it the other way around?
Well, brother darling, I am coming to the end of this unwritten letter. Laugh at me if you will but as you were always so good at finding me, I often imagined that you would find a way to send me a sign to attest our enduring oneness - perhaps by rearranging the stars in the night sky. Just once. Just for me. Or perhaps you had done so and I missed it. God alone knows how many signs and signposts we do miss without ever knowing we had missed them.
And you know something? I am immensely grateful we had never been lovers. Most of my lovers had left footprints of sorts in my life but none that I would miss if washed away in the next tide. Your footprints, darling, are permanent because we were not lovers - we were brothers. And like the old Arab saying goes: “The love of a man for a woman waxes and wanes like the moon. But the love of brother for brother is steadfast as the stars and endures like the words of the Prophet.”
I love you, miss you and always will.
Post script: I found the following segment about Robert Capa in one of Gellhorn's letters to Rosamond Lehmann* written sometime in 1958.
"... I loved Capa with my whole heart - but not the way you mean. I met him in Spain in 1937 and he was my brother, my real brother. (I was his brother too); There was never, not for one minute ever, the slightest sexual attraction between us. We counted on each other. He needed me less (yet I was the only woman he ever had as a friend and perhaps the only friend he had who knew him); I needed to know he was alive in the world. We never wrote, nor made plans to meet; we always found each other - all over the world - by a kind of miracle accident when we were really in need. I took his advice, and only his, as if I knew it to be absolute truth - a mystery. ..."
* Rosamond Nina Lehmann (3 February 1901 – 12 March 1990) was an English novelist and translator.