Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Love Letters

Mail is amazing.  Personal mail that is; not the mail that requires that a check be written and mailed back to the sender.  Mail means that someone was thinking about you and that someone took a substantial amount of time out of his or her day to tell you something, spent some money on a stamp and drove to the post office.....all of it for you. 

Letter writing was still a common occurrence ten years ago, although it was quickly fading by that time.  But let's say 14 years ago, when I was 13, it was an integral source of communication between me and my friends who lived in various states across the country. 

During my teen years, we didn't have cell phones with unlimited or even roll over minutes.  We definitely didn't have texting.  The big thing was cordless phones, so that you could talk to your friends privately in your room without being attached to the kitchen wall and heckled by your family.  Anybody remember stretching the phone cord as far across the room as possible, curling up on the floor as close to the wall as your could get, cupping the receiver and speaking quietly about whatever it was that was important to you at the time....glitter eye shadow or something?  It was like we thought the walls absorbed our conversations keeping them from our eavesdropping relatives.  Keep in mind, again, that my teen years were 10-14 years ago; things sure have changed quickly. 

Anyway, because we didn't have all of the communication conveniences that we have today and our parents heavily restricted long distance calls, we resorted to saving up allowances and lunch money to buy calling cards OR we would talk for 10 minutes and end the conversation with, "I'll just write you a letter."  Of course, we did have email back then but that was in the day of dial up internet, that sometimes wouldn't dial up, and family email accounts.  So, email as a main source of communication wasn't all that effective either.  In fact, I only checked email once a week.

This is obviously not one of the most organized group of letters but it was the easiest to access
I saved the majority of the letters I received from my friends.  They are organized by person and in order by date.  It's fun to read through them every couple of years and remember what it was like discovering that particular letter in the mailbox, how I felt when I read it, and confirming that teenagers really are severely awkward creatures.   I remember the almost unbearable anticipation waiting for a letter to arrive.  I would time the postal system by determining....okay, he said he sent the letter today so it will probably be on a truck by tomorrow....from New York (or Minnesota, Michigan, Kansas City, Arizona, etc.) it will probably be here next Thursday.  That was so much more fun than receiving a generic, thoughtless text:  What's up?  IDK.  LOL.  IC.  Yep.  Nope. Gah-it's so impersonal.  Texting is great for quick communication, confirming plans or being able to talk to your bff who lives forever away.  However, in 20 years I won't be able to look back at those conversations like I can a letter.

I was thinking about the lost art of letter writing a few summers back, probably after watching a Jane Austen movie.  I love that the only way two people could communicate was through letters/telegrams and that anytime a letter was received there was an immense excitement.  And the love letters were beautifully written.  So, I got to thinking:  Love letters aren't necessarily reserved for romantic relationships; I mean all my letters from the past were from my girl and guy friends (okay, and maybe also from a few potentially interested boys).  The very act of writing and sending a letter requires effort, and effort reserved for those people we truly care about, which is why so few people do it.  The recipient inherently realizes that the letter took the sacrifice of time, maybe some extra focus on penmanship, the cost of a stamp, a trip to the post office, and thought.  No matter the content of the letter it's special to receive.

I challenged myself to write love letters to my friends.  Sometimes they are quippy and include a funny card, other times they are more thoughtful.  I did well with this for a while and even started randomly receiving letters and cards back! My letter writing slowly tapered off recently or became focused on the same one or two friends so I am challenging myself, again, and you too, to start sending handwritten mail to people you care for.  Your bff in Arizona, a childhood friend, a relative you don't get to see very often, or even maybe someone you see on a regular basis! 

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