I've been thinking about letters lately. Specifically, why more people don't write them. Letters have been used for centuries as a vital form of communication, and I think it's tragic that it's considered "special" or "exciting" to get something other than junk, bills, or magazines in the mail. Maybe it's because I'm a writer-type. Or because I have a boyfriend who loves me. Or because my friends understand how crazy-obsessive I can be. But I've been writing letters for a long, long time. I like timeless things. The kinds of things that never really go out of style, that can never be successfully modernized. Things like music - we will never not need it. Or the holiday season. A good love story. And the fact that a good love story almost always includes some letter writing.
The great writers and lovers in history wrote letters. Romeo and Juliet (as much as it pains me to call them "great lovers in history," but still) wrote to each other. Abelard and Heloise wrote some truly beautiful, passionate letters to each other. Songs about love feature letters, like Jason Reeves' "Old-Fashioned Letters," which opens with the words, "You still write me old-fashioned letters/ put your perfume on the pages..." America's Founding Fathers wrote to each other constantly regarding the American Revolution, and later, Southern plantation owners wrote to each other - confidentially, of course - about their concerns about the morality of slavery. Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, William Shakespeare, Edmund Burke, Charlotte Smith - great literary figures! - all great letter writers.
Perhaps it really is because I'm in a long-distance romantic relationship. Robert and I write to each other, and while I can't speak for him, I know my heart beats faster while I'm twirling the combination of my campus mailbox to get it open. It sinks a bit when that box is empty but oh, how it pounds when I find one of those perfect cream-colored envelopes waiting for me! How could I not race up the stairs and across the bridge, past the apartments and the library and the field to my room to rip it open and read it no less than fifty times? How could I not put off homework and other commitments to compose a reply and put it with the next batch of outgoing mail?
I'm not saying that there's some major outpouring of love, tenderness, affection, and mushiness with each letter. That would be beyond ridiculous. No, many of our letters are merely reflections on what's going on in our daily lives, sharing things that somehow get left out of conversations on the phone. This is not to say that we don't dissolve into the miscellaneous "I love you"s and all that stuff. We do. But our letters are no less perfect for not being exclusively full of those phrases. There's something inherently sweet about someone taking time to sit down, pull out a nice piece of paper and a pen, and sit and put their thoughts in words. The act of writing is going out of style. You have to choose your words carefully to fit on the page, to be careful about making mistakes because there is no "backspace" with pen and paper. Then you have to put a stamp (worth 41 cents these days!) on it, effectively paying someone to carry it for you, when e-mail is cheaper. Then the waiting. Not only for them to receive your letter - which can take up to 4 days for national mail, up to a week for international - but also for them to sit and write back to you, and put it in the mail and for their letter to reach you can be another 2 - 8 days. This whole process can take 2 weeks if your pen-pal is a slow responder.
But I think it's worth it. I would gladly wait that extra week for written words from a friend or lover than an hour or two for them to respond to an e-mail or message on my wall on Facebook. Knowing they put a little more into it, a little more of themselves, a little more thought of me, a little more dedication to our relationship, makes it more than worth it.
So I challenge you. Think of a friend from high school or college that you haven't talked to lately. Think of your great-aunt Gladys who got you a sweater you now love for your birthday last spring. (I would talk about the greatness of "thank you" notes, but that's another topic entirely, and I don't want to get into preachy manners at this point.) Think about your best friend who's in college across the country. Grab a pretty piece of paper, an envelope, a stamp, and a pen (this whole process might cost you a dollar - same as a soda at a vending machine), and write them a quick little note saying hi, what you've been up to, what the weather's like, what random thing your dog ate last week - and make sure to ask how they're doing! - fold it up, stuff it in the envelope, lick it (sorry, this tends to not taste so great), slap a stamp, an address, and a return address just in case, and send it in the mail with a kiss and your best wishes.
May you have many wonderful letters to come.
More later - have to study!
Love all, trust few, do wrong to no one. ~ William Shakespeare