Last night I got a letter from Anne.
I heart real letters. Not all letters-just the ones that I get in my mailbox from someone who doesn’t want money from me. From someone who actually has news or something wise to say. From someone who is thinking of me.
There is something about actually holding a piece of paper, the heft of it adding weight to the importance of the communication. The permanence of it.
I relish the fact that the letter was once actually held in the hands of the person writing to me. The author’s joy, sadness, boredom, yearning all imprinted into the paper like little energy fingerprints. I love that a dear one put it in an envelope and selected a stamp, walked to a mailbox and remembered to send it off and that ultimately some kind mailcarrier placed it in a pile just for me. A long chain of tiny acts of deliberate intention.
I appreciate all the clues on a letter that set the prose into context. The coffee stain on the back that tells me it was morning (or maybe late at night) when the thoughts tumbled out…the handwriting so small and intense or loopy and hopeful, the bored doodles in the margins. A series of crossed out thoughts that reveal a distracted mind. Are those tears that smudged the ink? Sometimes the paper is smooth and perfect–the letter carefully written with no mistakes. A finished product with a rough draft crumbled up in the trash. Perhaps if I am lucky I can catch a whiff of familiar perfume.
You can take email, with its showy instantaneousness. I’ll take a letter any day.
Last December I was cleaning out a closet in the room that is now my office. It’s what a real estate agent might call a bonus closet–the deep dark extra closet that becomes a catch all for life’s baggage. Ten years ago when we moved into this house I used it as a place to park the countless boxes of memoirs I have dragged around with me all my life. After so many years, so little attention, and a new-found disdain for clutter, I tackled the closet expecting to be able to throw away whole piles quite quickly. Instead I found myself seated in the midde of the room surrounded by pages of others’ lives captured in pen–secret confessions, mundane news whispered to me on paper. There was the card, scribbled quickly with a bright colored pen to ease the loneliness of life after college, the long letter from a friend in the Navy–out to sea and pensive. The newsy letters from girlfriends, recounting dates gone bad, weekend plans and new jobs, new homes, new love.
And among all these gems, some written over 20 years ago, was a long letter full of poetry. It was from the guy I had dated the summer between my freshman and sophmore years of college, a summer that was purely magical – a bridge between innocence and maturity. That summer was a time before I knew about real heartache and crushed dreams, when life seemed like one long infinite stretch of nothing but possibility. I was head over heels not only with him but with life and all that the future could hold. We kept in touch for a few months once back in school, before life took us in different directions. His letters were some of the best I ever received.
Holding that paper in my hands again, rereading those bold, sweet, vulnerable words only a 19 year old could pen, my heart sang just as it had half a lifetime away. For a brief moment I was back sitting on the floor of the hallway of my dorm, reading those words for the first time, all giddy and sparkly.
I have to admit that this January I carried that particular letter around with me for a couple of days tucked safely into my notebook. The hopefulness and warmth that it represented to me seemed like a perfect talisman for the coming new year. When I was at last ready to put it down I pulled out a pen and some notebook paper and wrote him a long letter with blessings and warm wishes for his older, less innocent, self and the family that I was sure he must have. I googled him and found an address for his oncology practice, put a stamp on it and sent it on its way. I giggled when I thought of the many different ways it could be received. Would he be shocked? Thrilled? Terrified? Call for a restraining order?
Last March, on a miserable dark night I went to my mailbox and pulled out the bills and circulars. I sifted through and found a heavy envelope, the handwriting eerily familiar but a return address I could not quite place. I went inside, made some tea and opened it curiously. It was a most lovely four page letter, handwritten on a legal pad, slightly torn at the top, a chronicle of 4 precious children, an amazing wife, a busy medical practice and happiness found in the midwest. The best kind of news…A shot of sunshine loaded with humor. His voice the same, just wiser. I couldn’t have asked for a more glorious response. It too made me feel sparkly but in a grown-up, more settled and less naive kind of way.
Letters can do that in a way no other form of communication can.
Sure I enjoy the spontaneity of email–how it makes you feel so close to someone so far away. I appreciate the convenience of text messages too. And I have been known to spend a late night here or there whispering on the phone for hours, hearing the voice of someone who makes me smile.
But letters, letters are works of art.
I love letters.