Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Infamous letter from Johnny Cash to his wife June on her 65th birthday, heralded as one of the greatest love letters of our time.
Infamous letter from Johnny Cash to his wife June Carter-Cash on her 65th birthday , heralded as one of the greatest love letters of our time.

Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls; for, thus friends absent speak

 ~John Donne

I love letters. I love writing them and I love reading them. I love the whole idea of them. Their tangibility. The inherent romance in the idea of a human hand putting pen to paper. Thoughts streaming from the mind, relaying through the nervous system and pulsing through the warmth of the blood to flow forth – a river of consciousness trickling through the ink of the pen to indelibly infuse a clean sheet of paper with new life and purpose. The energy of humanity infused into the paper, becoming a piece of physical history.

Letters are an intrinsic part of our culture, and I fear for their extinction.

Of course digital letters and notes exist – they are written and re-written constantly – zooming through space as so many 1’s and 0’s above our heads this very moment. But the fleetingness of those messages is – to me – tinged with sorrow; they are not given the opportunity to LIVE in the world the way a letter is. And certainly, many digital notes and letters may be preserved via digital storage devices well into the future. But, as we have seen in our lifetime from the dawn of Silicon Valley to the present – these storage devices become obsolete so very quickly. How many of us are able to read a floppy disk from their home? Or if they could, how many WOULD? One disk or drive or memory card may hold millions of thoughts and ideas, but without the ability to view them easily – how many of them will be discovered, read, revisited, cherished?

Now, I know that paper is far from an infallible medium: it can burn, fade, become dry and brittle, waterlogged, moldy, or even be destroyed by insects and animals. BUT, the divine letter – that holy grail of thought and presence, found in a box or drawer or folder – dusty with neglect, musty with age, even partly faded and difficult to read – is still instantly accessible to the senses. And not simply the viewer’s ability to read the words, oh, no. All the senses are engaged, offering a depth of experience to the reader. The look and feel of the paper. The smell of the paper and ink. The shape of the characters on the page, the pressure of the pen, the colors chosen. All these aspects combine to offer potential insight to the author’s unique characteristics: age, ability, size, mood, time, place, social status and more. Delicious clues to a sweet little mystery. As if peeking into one of those elaborate sugar Easter eggs to view the enchanting scene inside. Evoking a sense of wonder, of curiosity, of human connection. When you write a letter, you are creating a time capsule. Preserving a multi-sensory moment in time so that it may be experienced by another human being. Sharing a human connection far greater than a text, a post, an email or an emoji ever could.

Letters are transcendent gifts which we MUST continue to give each-other. And the writer’s experience is just as important as the reader’s. The sealing of the envelope – the adhering of the stamp. The mindful experience of placing that magical offering into the mailbox, where it begins a journey – passing through the hands and lives of countless others; picking up tiny energy fragments from all them as it makes its way across land, air and water to greet the recipient, miles and miles away.  Then, the recipient’s opening of the letter, like a present. The caress of a gentle wave of energy transferred through the fibers of the paper and pigments of the ink that unabashedly declares, “I care for you”.

And to think – all this magic, this connection, this preservation of history and culture can be given and received for the meager sum of about one dollar. A miracle right at the ends of our fingertips.

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