Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cos my baby just a-wrote me a letter ...

I received an invitation in the mail last week. Beautifully hand written on thick, creamy paper, it made a delightful change from the avalanche of bills that usually spew forth from my letterbox. And it was doubly delightful because it was an invitation to a wedding. I haven’t been to one in years, as all my friends and family seem to have finished with that cycle of life and are instead moving on to 40th birthday parties … a little depressing, but still, better than my parents and my in-laws, who are busy on the funeral circuit.

But I digress.

The excitement of receiving personal, hand-written mail got me thinking - when did I last put pen to paper and write - and post - a proper letter? Not for a very, very long time. These days, with email, texting, Facebook and Skype, it is so easy and quick to communicate electronically; why would we bother with the more laborious and time-consuming option of hand writing and posting a letter? It just doesn’t make sense to do so.

Still, I can’t help thinking that we’re losing something with the demise of the letter …

My (now) husband and I got together way back in 1990. He was 21, I was 18, we were in lurve … and six months into our fledgling romance the company he worked for sent him across the other side of the world to Florida. For nine whole months. Back then it seemed like we would be separated for an eternity, and in a way, we were; in 1990 there was no email, no texting, no Skype, and international phone calls were HUGELY expensive (I remember a single 20 minute phone call cost me $80. Ouch!) So the only way we could keep in touch regularly was to write letters.

And boy, did we write! Something like four or five letters a week. I still remember the excitement of opening the letterbox and seeing those blue, airmail envelopes with those American stamps. And the thrill of opening those letters, knowing he’d touched the paper I held in my hands. Nine months of letter writing kept our fledgling romance blooming; must’ve worked, because 20 years later, we’re still here. J

Now, I’m the first to admit that I would have jumped at the chance to keep in contact with the man by email or Skype. They’re instant, and they’re easy. But they’re also impermanent. Unless you print out an email, it’s gone once you clean out your inbox. And if we’d relied on emailing each other, we wouldn’t have what we have now – a wooden keepsake box stuffed full of letters. Hundreds of them. I’ve kept them all, his and mine, and once in a blue moon we read a few, have a giggle at our younger selves and feel grateful for each other. Would we be able to wander down memory lane in this way if we’d emailed? I don’t think so.

And then I think of all the letters that researchers and biographers read to inform their studies of people who lived years and years ago … what do they rely on now? Scouring outdated hard drives for fragments of emails? It’s not the same as holding a delicate, time-worn page that someone poured their heart out on, or ranted away on, or pondered the universe …

Anyway, back to the wedding invitation. There were two options to RSVP – either by writing and mailing an RSVP to the bride’s mother, or by email. Which option do you think I chose?

That’s right. I emailed. :-P

In the end, convenience won out over the opportunity for me to write and post a note expressing my delight at being invited to the big day, something the bride and groom might have kept for posterity. Ah well, what can I say … except that next time, I won’t be so slack. Next time, I’ll take the time to write and post something that significant. For not only is it a quiet thrill to receive snail mail these days; letters are, to quote Goethe: “... among the most significant memorials a person can leave behind.”

1 comment:

  1. I was thinking about your post again this morning Rachel, remembering all sorts of things about letter writing - writing to DH before we were married (while he was in England and I was in Turkey for a few months), both in paper (where you can add presents into the envelope! can't do that with email :-)) and by email letters, which I've printed and saved.
    Before that, I remember learning how to write a proper letter, thanks to my aunt in Turkey; when my sister and I visited every summer there were lots of friends - not to mention our parents - to write letters to, and my aunt the English and History teacher was always there to show us how to do it properly, from the date to the greetings and salutations, to the right places to break off words if you come to the end of a line...
    Shall I write you a letter? :-)