Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Lifetime Love of Letters

    The art of letter writing has been all but lost to us with the advent of e-mail. The daily anticipation of  correspondence waiting for us in the mailbox has been supplanted by the instant gratification of the e-mail box.  Nothing can compare though, with the joy of opening the mailbox and seeing your name handwritten on the front of and envelope. A letter isn't just a piece of paper conveying thoughts and information, it is evidence that someone took time out of a busy day to think of you and connect with you in a tangible way.
    Letters can be held in the hands, read and re-read, saved for years and read again. They are time capsules that hold your personal history safely in their pages. It is conversation at its best, each person gets to have their say, uninterupted. Words can be thought out, editted, and read for clarity before others hear them. The process of letter writing helps to hone the skills of meaningful communication.
   I have had a life long love of letters. Being an Army brat, frequently having to say good-bye to friends and move away, letters helped to ease the loss. I could stay connected with those I left behind. Writing helped me to push back the sense of isolation and receiving a return letter helped me bear the lonliness of being the new kid in town.
    Some of my letters have traveled with me all over the world. The pages may have aged and yellowed around the edges, but every time I open one of them, I can still hear the voice of the author. The words speak to my heart as clearly today as the day they were first opened. Some of the letters represent voices that may no longer speak to me in person, family members who have passed away and friends that I have lost contact with. By opening their missives I can remember them as they were, untouched by age, loss or death.
    I wasn't really aware of how much I depended upon mail until last year. I moved from my homestead of 20 years to a farm at the edge of the rainforest in Costa Rica. Here my address is 600 meters North of the Plaza, Sabalito, Guanacaste, Costa Rica. With an address like that, I'm not too likely to have mail find me, even if there were a mail box for it to be delivered to! The closest P.O.Boxes are located at the back of a motorcylce sales and repair shop, 12 bumpy, curvey, kilometers away in Tileran. We actually have P.O.Box #7,  but for the last 10 months, nothing has been delivered there. It has either been returned undeliverable to the sender, or disappeared without a trace. So, with much reluctance I have resigned myself to e-mail communication.
    E-mail allows for impersonal, one sentence notes, where u replaces you and 2 replaces to, or even worse the forward, of a forward, of a forward. I can't touch the surface an e-mail, smell the faint scent of the cologne the writer was wearing, or relish the small artworks called stamps, that grace the upper right hand corner of the envelope. I miss the comfort of words on paper that I can carry with me from place to place, tied with a ribbon, to remind me of the people I am seperated from by miles and time. I am always happy to have an e-mail, don't get me wrong, some news is better than no news, but it just doesn't feel the same. 
    One bastion of hope for the future of letter writing is mail art. Within the mail art community are many people from diverse backgrounds and cultures who have taken hold of a common thread, the writing, decorating and sending of mail. The unselfish act of sending mail to total strangers opens up a wide world of possibilities for connecting with people and in some cases making lifelong friends. The mail artist will respond to a mail art call posted on the web, or just send a handmade postcard to a random address, with no expectation of a return letter. It is an act of benevolence, a gift, a random act of kindness, and more often than not, is rewarded by a return letter or card. As mail artists all over the world know; you have to send mail to get mail, so why don't you start today? Send a real letter to someone you haven't seen in awhile, or look up mail art calls on the web and choose one to respond to. Wade in, reach out, and enjoy finding little gems with your name handwritten on the envelope mixed in with the bills and junk mail in your mailbox!

No comments:

Post a Comment