One stamp at a time

“The Great Letter Revival Movement” in the Harrisburg Patriot-News (July 3, 2010).

An unspoken, hopeful moment in my day, and I daresay in most people’s, occurs with the simple act of reaching into the mailbox. Somewhere deep in our subconscious is a deep longing for a pleasant surprise to begin or end the day — something entirely unexpected — a letter.

That hidden expectation is tucked away so deep that we recognize it only when it is fulfilled, when and if that time ever arrives.

For most of us, reaching into the mailbox reveals much the same: a Clipper magazine with advertisements, some unwanted credit card solicitations, a “Have you seen us?” postcard about missing children and perhaps the remaining bill or two that isn’t delivered online.

What a lonely and unfulfilling mailbox. It is a sad commentary on the way we live our lives.

And no, I’m not talking technology here. E-mail and online technologies are tremendous assets to the enhancement of modern communication. For someone who avoids talking on the phone, e-mail often is a wonderful — and many times — quicker substitution. Technology, however, is not killing the letter.

The culprit is us: Our hectic lives and packed calendars, our to-do lists and the race to accomplish as much as we can before night’s end. In other words, our priorities.

I daresay we’re entering an age where the art of writing a letter is quickly vanishing. Sure, a card will occasionally show up in our mailbox, but Hallmark leaves a bit to be desired as do the boasting year-in-review letters sent in bulk during the Christmas season. If we don’t engage in letter-writing today, do we really think the next generation will take the time to sit down and write a letter?

I must first disclose that I am partial to letters.

When my oldest brother spent his first summer at the shore and then lived away at college, I started writing him letters. As someone who enjoyed writing, it was a good opportunity to learn the craft of writing and find new ways to poke fun at my brother at the same time. At age 12, it was a wonderful discovery for me. More than two decades have passed, with hundreds of letters in the mix, and I credit the letter (and its often unfortunate recipients) with teaching me how to write.

The letter is a challenge to write, primarily because you must wrestle yourself away from the activities of the day, sit down and contemplate. Yes, get away. Yes, sit down. Yes, contemplate. It means putting things aside and recognizing the importance of reflecting on one’s life and one’s relationship with another. Not only is this important, it is central to healthy living and meaningful relationships.

If you were to take the time to sit down and write a letter, to whom would you write? Your father or mother? Sister or brother? Spouse or child? Uncle or friend? Now imagine that person reaching into his or her mailbox next week and discovering among the pile of circulars and catalogs an old-fashioned stamped letter. From you!

Shared experiences are the buds that begin any relationship. Our memory of those experiences, and our shared reflection and commentary on them, help those buds grow. Letters have the power to enter deeper and more fully into a relationship — even if it is a letter to a spouse or child you live with day in and day out. It is in moments of reflection and in opening ourselves to others that we come to truly engage in communication.

A challenge, then: Participate in the Great Letter Revival Movement. No, it doesn’t exist yet, but with your participation it can become a reality. Take the time to write a letter to that friend or family member and see what comes of it.

If you’re feeling timid, simply clip this article and include it with the letter so as to avoid appearing the eccentric weirdo who one day randomly chooses to write a friend.

Who knows where the Great Letter Revival Movement will take us. Lives could be changed, relationships deepened and mailboxes brought to life.

All it takes is a little time, a little courage and 44 cents.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *