As I approach a milestone birthday, I find myself reminiscing more often. Perhaps it has to do with the time of year. Having lost my mother and dad a few years ago,the month from Motherʼs Day to Fatherʼs Day has become a somewhat bittersweet, poignant time of year for me.
I have always been a lover of words, especially the written word. My home is stuffed with books of every description, I spend entirely too much time in local bookstores, and instead of my automatic payroll deposit, I should just have my check sent ahead to my favorite bookshop and be done with it.
But my favorite written words are the notes, cards, and letters I have saved through the years. With the advent of e-mail, cellphones, text-messaging, and Facebook/MySpace websites, most of 21st century communication is instant, fleeting, and largely superficial. Our written communication has become abbreviated, as in short and to the point, but also literally abbreviated with the use of Internet lingo.
Forty years ago I wrote letters to my parents keeping them informed of my life at college. Money was tight and those letters fleshed out our weekly phone call which was carefully timed to avoid the high price of long distance rates in the 1970s. On the telephone, mom and dad heard I had attended the first dance of my sophomore year, but in my follow-up letter they learned all about the young man I met there, the music we danced to, what I wore, and the fact that he had asked for my phone number. Today, I would probably have texted my mom, “BTW, ITIAIL!!!”, and she would have e-mailed me a row of smiley face emoticons. But back then, my letter to mom ended with a P.S.which read, “By the way, dear mother, I think I am in love.” I have those letters that I wrote to my folks, having discovered, after they died, that they had saved them all.
My sons are grown and gone, both living hours away and leading busy, demanding lives. Our communication is most often by phone. But in the second drawer of my oak desk I have carefully tucked away the rare, precious notes and cards that arrive a few times a year, usually containing a line apologizing that they donʼt write more often. Now, I love talking with my sons, and e-mail is a great way to keep in touch, but when I am missing them the most or on the days when I am a bit blue, that drawer is a reservoir of memories and feelings and encouragement. Those bits of paper are tangible, those words can be read and re-read, that handwriting so distinctly theirs as to be a touch of their presence for just a moment.
I only have a single letter from my grandmother. It is a long letter, filled with loving, concerned, wise counsel to a lonely, overwhelmed young mother living far away from her family of origin. I keep her letter tucked in my Bible and every few years when my devotions brings me back to that place, it tumbles out and blesses me all over again. She has been gone since December 1986, but I am blessed to have her thoughts and her prayers for me right in my hands in 2009.
Perhaps there are people in your life who you donʼt see as often as you wish you could, friends you are in danger of losing touch with, relatives at a distance, or even those in the area whose schedules are as busy as yours. Sometimes it is hard to reconnect with a telephone call. How do you explain a long absence? What excuses will need to be made? Where do you begin a conversation? Writing a letter allows you to gather your thoughts and express them in your own way, without interruption or awkward pauses or fumbling for words.
Perhaps there are people you know who really need kind words, comfort, reassurance, or just to know that they are in someoneʼs thoughts. I wonder what would happen if every elderly person in every retirement or nursing home received just one card or letter every few days. I wonder what a difference that might make in their day to day lives.
My husband and I were in a bookstore cafe recently, and he had taken along an envelope filled with stamps acquired at his local stamp club meeting and was happily sorting them. There was a mother with two little boys sitting at a nearby table, and as they walked past us, the boys noticed all those colorful little squares with the interesting pictures on them and wanted to know what those were. They did not know what stamps were and had never received a letter. We hastily showed them a few envelopes with postage on the corner explaining what mail is, and then pulled together a handful of stamps with birds, butterflies, and space vehicles for them to take along. Maybe their extended family all live in the area. But I found myself thinking about our technology savvy children who live on cellphones, who text and IM all day long, wondering who is speaking words of wisdom and lasting encouragement into their lives in ways they can carry with them for a lifetime.
Carol Petersen, June 6, 2009
Reprinted with the author’s permission, March 1,2011