There's a terrible rumor going around that the United States Postal Service is soon to become just an entry in history books. The USPS has been losing its foothold in the market of necessities since the advent of the internet. As mail's successor, email, becomes a side note in correspondence -usurped by social media and text- the postman is nearing full-on extinction. A recent report noted that 3,700 offices were slated to be closed in the coming months. There are whispers that the 236 year-old independent government agency will breath its last breaths in 2012. I am not sure of the reality of this threat, but the prospect makes my heart very heavy.
Recently, after a lapse in friendship for almost 10 years, I began a letter correspondence with a high school friend. We had one catch-up phone call in which we shared the readers digest versions of the last decade and then determined that we we'd try the pen pal route. The letters come and go about monthly and cover topics like Bach, beer, philosophy and family. We don't spend much time reminiscing, rather sharing whatever is on our minds at the time and answering the open-ended questions from the others last letter. We spend 7 hand written pages just "talking" uninterrupted. What conversation gets that kind of attention? After the first exchange, I started checking the mailbox more regularly -sometimes greeting the postman on the front steps- just hoping for a hand-addressed letter. It's romantic, even though it's not. I'm in love with the correspondence.
I'm reminded of the pen pals I used to keep as a kid. Somewhere in my attic is a box of letters from my cousin, Carie, signed with hearts over the "i"s and multiple post scripts. We lived thousands of miles apart -she in Montana and I in Kentucky. We never spoke on the phone and saw each other only a handful of times over 15 years. In these letters we wrote about school, broken bones, and most importantly, boys. (Significantly, it was in our letters that I first heard wind of her now husband. Of course, the first mention of him was when we were probably 13! Gosh that's cute.) We never said much of any depth, really, but through only the occasional letter we built a friendship close enough that I was a bridesmaid in her wedding in 2005.
There's just a difference in potency between an internet correspondence and "snail mail" (But seriously, what snail could travel cross country in 3 days?!). I think one part of it is self-editing. I don't know how other people do it, but I prefer to hand-write letters. Even if it's chicken scratch. Honestly, I think the charm of deciphering someone's personal font is half of the fun. So there's only one "draft" of the letter. After I lick the envelope, I never read it again. The only remnants of the words I write are my pen pal's return letter. Then, I see myself through the lens of his response.
Gmail has backlogged 10 years of instant messages for me that I can search and peruse. I don't have to remember a thing. But, a letter that doesn't leave you isn't a letter. A letter is a gift, it has to be given away. (What's that Michael W. Smith song? "Love isn't love- til you give it away...")
Anyways. I'm trying to get back into the swing of using the USPS more frequently. It shouldn't be just for delivering sweepstakes and bills. Maybe we can start a new trend? Bring back pen pals. (Hipsters should dig it. They're into vintage, right? Nothing's more American Vintage than the USPS- Ben Franklin was the first postmaster!)
Start by writing your grandma. She misses you. So does your postman.
If you're looking for a way to utilize an even more antiquated means of communication, check this telegram service: telegramstop.com I received a surprise telegram from a dear friend last year and it made my month. The look and feel of the package is legit. (They have a package for wedding announcements, too, with little RSVP tags. It might be just a little too hokey and impersonal for me, but it's still pretty sweet.) Overall, still more expensive than a regular letter.