The Archaic Art of Writing Letters

A year ago, we armed ourselves with spare change, loose dollar bills, and whatever other monies we could muster up from around our house, and spent an hour or two in the card aisle at Target. And then again this Spring I did the same at the National Gallery of Art's gift shop. Our aim: buy cards. We bought a birthday card for every member of our extended families and then a stack of "special" cards. We could have just bought a box of generic cards, but wanted the card itself to be as special as the act of sending it felt. It's December and as much as I want to complain about the lateness of a package I ordered a month ago that has yet to arrive, I am married to a man who works for the USPS headquarters and whose job it is, in part, to distill data about why packages don't arrive when they should. So I withhold my frustration this year.

Barely has our postman—whose name is Brendan—stepped up on our stoop before Harper has run to the door, barking, and shoving her still small enough snout through the mail slot in the door. Brendan always chuckles and waits until she pulls it back before shoving the mail through—cards, mailers, packages that fit. And then Harper does what dogs since the genesis of any postal service have done, gathers what she can in her small mouth and trots it back to me as if to say, "See what treasures I have brought you?" when, really, she has done the smallest work of all.

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W. H. Auden, wrote,

And none will hear the postman's knock Without a quickening of the heart. For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

I have been thinking of how easy it is to remember friends these days. If it weren't for my real life friends scattered all over the globe, I might have done away with any or all of my social media accounts more than once. But I love their babies in real life and am far from them in this life, so double tapping is sometimes the best I can do to say, "I love those chubby thighs and I love your new haircut and I love your kitchen renovation and I love your wedding and I love how your puppy makes you smile and I love your laugh and I love your taste in books and poetry and music and aren't you glad we're friends?"

But it is awfully hard to be real life friends when we're scattered so, and don't you ever feel forgotten? I do.

It is December though and Christmas cards aplenty come and birthday cards, them too. Packages galore, envelopes stuffed full, smiling families sitting still in a one in a million shot (Come now, do you think any of us believe that was your first try or your fiftieth?), letters, and reminders that we're not forgotten in real life. (Double taps and "likes" on Facebook don't count.)

I counted up the weddings I've been a part of in my life and there were more than 20 and less than half but more than a quarter of those have gone the way of divorce or have wobbled on the edge of it a time or two. It is easy, I think, to celebrate. But, a friend tells me this week, it is easier for her to mourn with than celebrate, and I think of the slowly ebbing stack of cards in my desk. One sent out each month right before another anniversary of a young friend's death. I want his mother to know she is remembered because to feel yourself forgotten is a worse thing than most of us can bear. It is easy to celebrate, maybe harder to mourn, but what is important is to remember at all.

It all makes me think of David's Psalm after he'd been taken by the Philistines at Gath,

You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? (Ps. 56:8)

Christmas is a warm and lovely time for many, but it is a hard and fallow time for others. There is no guilt in this, demanding that we invite in those we'd rather not, but sometimes the simple act of remembering someone who may feel forgotten may warm us and them more than we planned or expected. I cannot do much for those in Aleppo today, as much as I ache to, but I can give a meal or ten to families in Aleppo. I cannot hug or laugh until our sides ache with my friends like family all over the world, but I can love my neighbor and somehow my far away friend and drop a note or two in the mail. It's small, it's slow, but it's simple and sincere and perhaps it will keep count of some tears of the good sort.


It occurred to me today that if you don't follow me on Instagram or FB, you don't see my incessant posting of the pup above. She is my best friend sometimes and easily the greatest threat to getting any housework done all the times (you try making a bed, folding laundry, mopping the floor with a pup who thinks it's all a game.). She's thirty pounds of cute though.