Help! I’ve fallen into the digital world and I can’t get out!
OK, maybe it’s not that bad. But here’s a case in point: A Facebook friend (clue number one – I have to qualify my friends by “friends I’ve hung out with” and “friends I know from Facebook”) posted a status today challenging all of her friends to write a letter, to anyone. It took me just a second to fall in love with the idea – not because I’m huge on letter-writing (although I used to be) but because I love doing things the old-fashioned way.
The closest thing I’ve come to writing a letter in a very long time is leaving a note for my daughter when I leave in the morning, asking her to empty the dishwasher or to remember to take the dogs out. More often than not, though, those “notes” are in the form of a text message sent on the fly. If I have to send a package through the mail I do usually include a note – but it’s never more than a sentence or two, and it’s nothing that would be sent at all if there weren’t a bigger purpose involved in using the mail system.
I used to love to write letters. One of my most prized possessions is a letter my father found last summer while going through his box of military papers. It was a letter I’d written to my grandmother postmarked Oct. 18, 1978 – just two weeks before she died tragically and unexpectedly in a store fire in Des Moines.
I remember writing a lot of letters. We moved around quite a bit when I was growing up, so letter-writing was a great way to keep in touch with friends I’d left behind. College, married life, children and life got moving too quickly and we soon lost touch, but thanks to the internet and (gasp!) Facebook I’ve reconnected with several friends from different areas we’ve lived.
Our first move – the first one after I learned to write, that is – was from Minneapolis to Anchorage. I had one friend I wrote to, Krissy, who was the daughter of my mom’s best friend. I think I wrote one letter. When we moved from Anchorage to a small Missouri town the middle of my seventh-grade year, there were more friends left behind and more letters written. I managed to maintain penpal status with a few of those friends until we went to college. We left Missouri for Carroll, Iowa, the summer before my senior year. You can bet I wrote a lot of letters to friends left behind as we all cursed my horrible, terrible, evil parents for making me move (I got over it). There were a few people I wrote from my one year in Carroll, but since I’d spent most of that year with a chip on my shoulder I didn’t get real close to a lot of people.
When I was in college my freshman year I got a surprise in the mail: a letter from my dad. I talked to Mom frequently, but since Dad spent most of his day at work on the phone, getting into an engaging telephone conversation at home was not something he wanted to do. On the rare weekends I went home – I loved college and didn’t love Carroll – Dad would pick me up and we’d spend the three-hour drive home talking non-stop about just about everything, but once we got home it was all about holidays or me being with some of the handful of friends I had there. The first letter was a surprise, but a welcome one; I wrote back and we started an occasional habit that continued all through my college career.
I think I wrote a few letters post-college: thank-you letters for gifts after the wedding and each of the kids’ births, a few letters to my grandparents in western Iowa, maybe a few to cousins and friends, but eventually the internet came along, cell phones became appendages and life just took off.
The letter went the way of the 8-track player and recording songs off the radio.
So now we have this challenge, and I intend to participate. I’m asking everyone to write just one letter – handwritten, with pen and paper – and send it to someone to make their day. Or to apologize for some long-ago misdeed. Or even to catch up with someone you chat with regularly.
Who knows? You may want to write two.