I received an unexpected postcard in the mail the other day from an old friend. It made my day.
It's been a long time since I've gotten a handwritten letter from a friend — it has to be 10 or 15 years. What's worse, I can't remember the last time I wrote one.
The reasons are obvious: e-mail, text messaging and cell phones. It's so fast and easy to whip off a quick note electronically, why would anybody take an hour or more to handwrite one?
I love what technology has allowed me to do. I'm able to keep in touch with more friends than I ever could have with traditional letters. Every now and then I "Google" a long-lost friend and pull up an e-mail address and contact number. I fire off an e-mail and soon a friendship that has been dormant for 20 years or more has been resurrected.
I've made new friends this way, too. A few years ago, I made a call to an editor in a big city who I'd never spoken with before. I called to pitch my column. We chatted for a spell and he agreed to review samples of my work.
A few weeks later he began running my column in the papers he oversees. Early on, we began swapping e-mail about the column and writing in general. One night, the fellow sent me an instant text message. We chatted back and forth electronically for a while.
Well, we've been chatting this way two or three nights a week for a year and a half now. While I sit in a pub, my friend sits on his back porch in California. We chat about writing, sports, politics, family … a million things.
This fellow is now one of my best friends. He even helped guide and edit a mystery novel I'd been struggling with (thanks to his assistance, I finally finished the thing after six years of agony).
I share details of this friendship for one reason: I never met the fellow in person. I'm not entirely sure what he looks like. We only spoke on the phone once. Our friendship has evolved entirely through electronic means.
Still, I miss getting handwritten letters in the mail.
I've kept every letter I ever received. I have boxes of them in the attic of a little rental property I own. I remember one Saturday in 2000 when I decided to move from that property to Washington, D.C. I had to organize my stuff and store what I wasn't bringing with me in the attic. It began as an unpleasant task that soured my mood.
As I sorted through years of "junk," I stumbled upon a letter I received in 1985, a year after I graduated college. It was from a fellow I'd gone to Penn State with, who went on to become an editor in Bangor, Maine. It was written on a light-blue final exam booklet with great wit and humor.
As I read it that Saturday in 2000, it brought me back 15 years — brought me back to exactly who I was when I was 24. I laughed out loud as I read it. As soon as I finished, I began fishing around for more letters.
I found a stack of them in pink envelopes from two girls, Bonnie and Tracey, who attended the same college as my friend Griff. He had them send me a letter once during our freshman year. A robust correspondence resulted between 1980 and 1984. As I reread those letters in 2000, I laughed so hard tears tumbled down my face.
I spent hours that Saturday rereading the dozens of letters I'd received over the years. It was amazing to me how much living I'd done and forgotten about. A Saturday that started off unpleasantly became one of the most uplifting Saturdays of my life.
Yeah, I like e-mail and text messages and cell phones. I like handwritten letters, too. If only we could figure out a way to embrace technological advances without tossing out the best of the old ways. Perhaps we just need to sing:
"Why don't I sit right down and write someone a letter…"