My daughter, a college student, has taken up an antiquated means of communication. She writes letters—the ones with paper, stamps, and envelopes. She has pen pal from her Challenge IV class. She writes to her mother and grandmothers, and they love it. Unfortunately, I have been way too slack in writing real letters.
I remember receiving letters in college, particularly letters from my dad. In those days, there were only two means of communication: letters and long distance (gasp!) phone calls. We talked regularly by phone, and I often found letters from Dad in my postal box. I also recall receiving checks with those letters. Uh, I am not so good about that, either. I am starting to look like a deadbeat dad.
So, last Sunday evening I gathered the tools and put pen to paper. In cursive I commended my daughter for wanting to write letters. I expressed to her my thoughts about the virtues of such correspondence. There is still value in paper, pen, envelopes, and stamps.
Real letters possess deeply personal qualities. You see the handwriting, neat or sloppy. You see the size of the letters, the inclination of the script, the spacing on the page, the folds of the paper. You might even find drops of sweat or tears. There is no keystroke to produce such effects. Emoticons are mass-produced, products of the information revolution, caricatures of the heart’s cries, but a handwritten letter carries the soul of the signatory.
Who keeps emails in a shoebox? Future generations may rely on Facebook archives to discover our stories. We will all look like two-dimensional collections of birthday wishes and smiling selfies—airbrushed images, carefully crafted to show our best sides. Meanwhile, we mistake profiles for people.
Real life has grit. Real life comes with pain. Real life consists of struggles, defeats, and victories. Old-fashioned letters capture that quintessence of life. In them, soldiers share their fears and struggles, lovers confess their passion and families tell their stories.
I have shoeboxes full of letters, relics of a bygone means of communication—permanent, personal, soul-filled pieces of paper that cannot be obliterated by tapping the delete button.
Now my daughter and I are actually exchanging letters. We share the latest news and our latest thoughts. I sent her a book of stamps. And it appears I need to find another shoebox. I am getting in on the pen pal action. I put my heart on paper for my daughter. And she shares her heart with me.