Thanksgiving day, the table littered with plates still warm from hands and hot food a debate began about the worth of letter writing in a modern world.
“It’s outdated and overrated.” One man exclaimed, “Send me an email. It’s quicker and easier–doesn’t waste paper.”
“I never check my mail. Only junk. Bills, correspondence–I do it all online. There isn’t ever anything good in my mail box so why would I bother checking it?” Another chimed in.
I love letters. For many reasons, but mostly because they are a way of sharing an experience with someone whom you are not with physically. The act of writing and receiving a letter is sensual. You hold it in your hands, paper that has been touched, and your skin absorbs the words. When you tear open the envelope there is often a waft of smell, paper, ink, grease from the food they were eating as they wrote, sometimes–if you are very lucky–your nose will even pick up the special smell that identifies your loved one, the unnamed scent that reminds you of them. And then there are the words, the press against paper, ink that bleeds through, ballpoint pen that leaves bumpy imprints on both sides of the page, pencil that smears when you accidentally touch it with wet hands. In the moment that you open and read a letter you hold something that has been held, created, sent to you alone.
Letters are slow, they are a measured way of sharing your thoughts and feelings. Over the phone or in an email it is easy to blurt things out, to quickly say or send what you do not mean. A letter however, for which you must find a pen, paper, envelope, and stamp, that you must write, address, stamp, and place in a mailbox is a declaration of truth and commitment in many ways. These words are sent with care and intention, an output of time was required to get them to you. A letter is a tangible sign of commitment and caring. It takes work to send a letter, it takes work to hold a friend, it takes work to tend a relationship, it takes work to save a space for distant love in your heart– and a letter? A letter is one of the surest ways I know of demonstrating the willingness to do this work, the work of loving, living, and sharing life another person.
The mythology of my existence is in part built around letters. Shortly after my parents met my mother boarded an airplane bound for distance. Once she told that me that she sang Peter Paul and Mary’s ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ to my father before she left. This was the first song I learned to play on the guitar and whenever I play or hear it I think of the love and life my parents have built together. During that year that my mother studied abroad my parents wrote and sent letters from Spain to Texas. The mythology that I carry is that this is how they fell in love, how they began the work of becoming partners, that the letters that sailed like ships across the ocean had wings covered in the words that would eventually lead to my life. The mythology of my life is that letters are important, that they allow us to speak when we might otherwise be silent.
Under my bed in Texas there is a box full of letters. They are in zip lock bags, dated and grouped by the time when I received them: Summer 2010, Hendrix College: Fall/Spring 2011, Outward Bound Summer 2012. From the dusty recesses under the bed pages whisper with feelings, confessions, secrets, prayers, and laughter. They remind me of the people who have loved me, who have worked and written and been a part of my journey. Sometimes I like to imagine where my letters end up, tucked into a book, stained with the ring of a coffee cup on a kitchen table, postcards tucked into windows, pages read once or twice or sent to the wrong address, stories thrown away or treasured or forgotten. All across the world my words have been read. They are birds I send out to tell my story, far flung and flying they are a moving, breathing act of prayer.
Last week I received a heavy stack of letters. Falling asleep they whispered from my bedside table, words weaving their way into my sleep.
…maybe, just maybe, if we put enough love, good works, and positive energy out there we can take two steps forward while our petroleum addiction takes one step back. I’ve got to see it that way, anyway. Because I have this little baby and I have to believe we can help her Mama earth out of this mess.
I am currently laying in a golden wash of sunshine streaming through my window. I love the sun’s warmth and greeting on this day.
It is good to realize you are our teacher in many ways.
Above another thunder clap tears at the sky’s fabric wringing out the excess water from heavy denim clouds onto East Texas February as if to say… YES!
I want to plant a garden this spring with my roommate.
As I fell asleep the pieces of these letters buzzed like a lullaby. These words bear weight in my hands. I can hold them. They might disappear in a blaze of fire or be pressed between pages for a century. Letters may be outdated by I will continue to send them, because I don’t know how else to demonstrate my dedication to the work of relationship and because in the mythology of my life letters are important.