I am having trouble throwing away a used envelope. It sits on my kitchen counter and I keep picking it up and examining the wavy lines that run across the face of Lady Liberty, announcing that the letter was mailed from Chicago, Illinois on 17 Jan 2012.
I smile at the girlish handwriting and the unfamiliar name I now recognize from having read the heavy, cream-colored, handwritten card inside. It’s the married name of the daughter of two of our best friends in Hawaii.
We had invited Alana and her husband, their three sweet young daughters, and her sister to join their parents for dinner with us during the Christmas season. The little ones dominated the evening. Perhaps they even brought it to a premature end—as one of them handed their grand-mama her walking shoes when their parents announced they were leaving early to put the children to bed!
Needing to tend to the children inevitably put limits on the adult conversation with Alana and her husband, David, both of whom we were meeting for the first time. So the arrival of the handwritten card a few weeks later helped make us just a little better acquainted. It said “Thank you” in a voice that could be heard in a way that the words on an electronic screen cannot quite manage. Perhaps it is so because it is not instant communication: it took time and reflection and the intervention of several human beings and multiple forms of transportation, and faith that the card would get to its destination. At least that is what the tactile pleasure of receiving snail mail—opening the envelope and reading the note held in my hand does for me. Every time.
Perhaps that is also why my mother barely tolerates email but treasures every letter that reaches her the old-fashioned way. For years she was a faithful correspondent, sending letters brimming with news to family in Kerala in the Malayalam script she still has not forgotten.
Scholars tell us that writing was seen in earliest times as “a gift from the gods.”
If it is, then I have an easier time thinking of angels poised to deliver the gift with pen and ink. I simply cannot see them on email. Certainly not on Facebook. And definitely not texting.
I have shared the card and the pleasure it gave me with my children. My hope? That the increasingly uncommon art of the handwritten note never dies. More of that and maybe the Post Office won’t die either. I LOVE MY POST OFFICE! And I am newly resolved to use my fountain pens—recently refurbished by my son who has acquired his Dad’s passion for pens. A sign that the art of the handwritten letter is not about to expire in this family any time soon? Maybe. OK. Can throw away that envelope now.