I believe in letters.
When I was little, I got letters from my grandfather, written in a nearly unintelligible scrawl on unlined paper. I was happy to see the Ohio postmark and get the update on the family gossip, but often enough my 10-year-old self liked the $10 bills occasionally included more than the updates on my grandfather’s life. I rarely cared to answer them.
Then in high school there was a crisis. My friend’s mother died of cancer. Our group of friends went from thinking about which action movie to attend to thinking about mortality. Adding this to our worries about college and the future changed the way that we interacted. I found myself writing letters to people that I saw often, telling them about my day or my thoughts, but also things I wouldn’t say in person. I wrote letters about the traits that I loved in them or the way that they’d impacted my life. From short notes on bubblegum pink stationery to seven-page-long missives on looseleaf, I mailed my thoughts to the people that I loved.
In college, my epistolary habits continued. From my university in Chicago or my travels, I mailed and received letters. They became more important when I went on a study abroad in Paris, sometimes seeming like my best connection to home. I got holiday cards from my mother’s best friend and postcards from an honorary aunt. I got updates on rowing from my teammates and reports on gossip from my friends. Each one looked different, on cards with Impressionist art works, Hallmark standards, or on the back of a worksheet. Each letter is a tiny time capsule, an illustration of a moment in the mind of someone that I love. Each one reminds me of the friendship that I’ve shared, the memories of the past, and is a promise of more time together in the future. I love each letter, and keep them to sort through and remember.
Of course, I have other ways to talk to my friends. We’re college students, and all have instant messenger, email, and cell phones. We talk to one another that way, keeping track of our lives and making plans. But these new technologies can’t match the old fashioned pleasures of a letter, the surprise of something in the mailbox, the satisfaction of tearing open an envelope, the familiarity of the handwriting inside. I send letters to show my life, a tangible reminder of the feelings that I have for friends. Each letter feels like a piece of my soul, something precious, and I receive equally wonderful letters in return. In my head, there are images of hearts crossing the country. Letters prove love, and I treasure each one I have, a piece of someone who cares.
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