When was the last time you got an actual letter in the mail? A hand-written, personal letter? When I was younger, and there was no such thing as e-mail, I used to be very good at writing to people, and as a result, I got a fair number of letters in return. There were the summer camp letters. I know from personal experience that children still eagerly await mail call at summer camp — but now it’s possible to send e-mails to your children at summer camp (these are still generally delivered at mail call). But I used to write to people even when I wasn’t away at summer camp. And I kept this up through college. But at some point, this art seemed to give way to modern technology.
So I decided to reclaim it. For Lent this year, I took up the spiritual practice of letter writing. I wrote a letter every day — forty-six letters (and then two more) to all sorts of people, and it was a wonderful gift — to myself.
I wrote to family. I wrote a letter to my mother. And to my brother. I wrote to friends. Close friends whom I talk to all the time, but who are far away. Friends whom I haven’t talked to in a while. I wrote a fan letter or two. And then I got bolder.
I started searching out people I hadn’t seen or heard from in years. Like, 40 years. In the Bible, 40 is code for “a really long time.” I know I wrote to at least two people I hadn’t seen in 40 years or more. I wrote to a girl I remembered from the second grade. We met in the second grade, but to be fair, I knew her through elementary school. I’ve wondered about her since then. And I found her. And she wrote back!
I wrote to a cousin I haven’t seen since my teens. Not only did she write back, but when I was in New York in May, we got together. Catching up on 40 years is hard to do over brunch, but now we’re connected on social media, and connected in real life.
I wrote to someone I know who’s in jail. This was a hard letter to write, because I’m angry at this person. But sometimes it’s important to say that. They wrote back. It was a difficult letter to get, too. But if I’m to be true to my faith, true to the idea of God’s universal love, then I can’t shy away from the difficult spiritual work.
I found that, as I continued to write, it became easier to write, even to people who seemed more distant to me. I started with the closer people, but I got braver. I wrote with no expectations. But I did get letters in return, and that was wonderful. What a gift to catch up with people, to go the slow path, and dig in a bit.
One letter was returned as undeliverable. Many went out with no word back at all. But I said what I need to or wanted to say.
Since Lent, I have continued to write letters, albeit not daily. But once awakened, it’s been easier to keep the practice fresh. And I’ve found that it’s enriched the way I write to people in more formal e-mails, as well.
I like technology. I do. I feel almost lost without my cell phone. But I also think it’s important to unplug from time to time. Nothing can be a replacement for face-to-face interactions, and there is still something special about the slow route of hand-written snail mail.
That’s my mite. It’s all I’ve got.