I admit it. I’m an email fanatic. I check my account twice a day, before and after work, and I correspond with about thirty people on a regular basis. I’ve always liked keeping in touch with old friends, and making new ones. However, it wasn’t until I recently received a “real” letter from an old friend that I realized how much I miss the intimacy of “snail mail”.
The letter came a week ago. I sat and looked at the envelope in wonder for several minutes before I could even bring myself to open it. It was fat and heavy, obviously containing much more than a brief note. I could hardly contain myself. How long has it been, I pondered, since I’ve received a real letter? I opened it carefully and smoothed out the pages. My friend’s lovely handwriting flowed across the page. There was a tiny stain in the corner that made me smile. Spilled coffee no doubt. I read the pages slowly, then made my own coffee, and read them again!
Later I thought about why that simple letter made me feel so good. First, it made me feel special. My friend is as busy as anyone, but she took the time to sit down and write a letter to me. She spent the money and time to mail it to me.
Second, it’s so personal. Most emails look the same. But my friend’s letter is a reflection of her personality. It’s written on stationary that she picked out and with a pen that she held in her hand. The handwriting reminds me of the way she talks and gestures.
Third, the letter is tangible. It can be saved and savored again and again. Sure, I can print emails or save them on a disk, but I seldom do. Real letters are things to be saved. I saved my mother’s letters. She was my best correspondent. She sent recipes, shared news and gossip, gave advice, and offered encouragement. I have nearly every letter my mother wrote to me between 1972 and 1992. Now that she is dead I treasure those letters among my greatest possessions. I’ve also saved letters from grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, children and grandchildren. The joys and the sorrows of my family’s life are recorded in those letters.
One of my hobbies is genealogy. Looking at my letter collection made me wonder about future generations. Will one of my emails be treasured by a great-great-grandchild yet to be born? Will future generations glean anything from the thoughts and feelings we’ve sent into cyberspace? Will they understand our hearts by looking at emails filled with cryptic symbols and botched syntax? Will there even be a record of our email correspondence, or will our thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams simply be deleted?
My friend’s letter has given me a renewed sense that all of our progress isn’t necessarily good. Sure, I enjoy the convenience and immediacy of email. I’ll continue to check mine twice a day and I’ll probably add more people to my address book. But today, just for the sheer joy of it, I think I’ll sit down and write a real letter to my friend.