A few days ago, the lid was lifted from the cowry-decorated letter box, filled with my collection of favorite letters from special people. For days, I’ve been passing by the air mail envelope sitting on top, author not revealed.
This morning, I slide it out and flip to read the sender. It’s only her first name in the upper left hand corner, as my life-long friend was backpacking through Costa Rica and had no return address to offer.
Eleven, hand-written pages, front and back, torn out from a travel-sized spiral notebook. I read the words 17 years later, her careful cursive penmanship, ever-familiar. She’s at some vegetarian cafe, traveling for weeks on a budget, sweating in the humidity and hammocks. The frozen yogurt in the nearby cooler is tempting her as she writes.
She is mourning the separation from one of her greatest loves (he is not the one she will eventually marry). She is listening to Rickie Lee Jones on a Walkman and writing to me of her eight mile hike through the jungle with a “monkey researcher,” which landed her in a desolate locale, surviving on plain pasta and dry bread for days.
Her words stay in the lines, but edits are added with small inserts, sometimes accompanied by smiley faces. She adds random hearts by a phrase, underscores and capitalizes special points. Her signature sketches itself outside the lines, moving diagonally across the bottom of the last page.
Wrapped up in this air-mail package, is an essence. I can almost smell the palm fronds steaming in the Costa Rican sun. Her hearts and smiley faces, hand drawn, long before emoticons existed. In this letter, I feel my friend – even as I read it now, nearly two decades later.
These days, I’m an active participant in cyber communications. I appreciate the multitude of boons it offers. But I do miss the era when I was a much more avid letter-writer, sharing mail with good friends.
Letter-writing entails taking a pause. Stopping long enough to put pen to paper and share. It’s no text message on the go. No email sent from your smart phone. It’s a true gift of time and reflection.
And when you receive that letter, it’s not a glance to a screen. You stop. You sit down. You open it. Inhale the scent of paper mixed with ink and postal carrier bags. You read words written that have no official font name. You soak in the story that was penned just for you.
I have folders of archived digital communications on my laptop. Filed away are some great words exchanged, some real email gems. But they’re lost in the hard drive. Ethereal in nature, untouchable. Filed by subject in orderly lines, homogeneous and easily forgettable.
But those letters wrapped up in that red ribbon, now those I can hold. I can literally feel their heart and soul, inside jokes, broken hearts, and wishes all burning to come true. Those letters are infused with moments intentionally carved by human hands, recording what was real and bursting. Hand delivered at the post, using spare change to buy the stamps.
They are tangible.
Love that traveled a true distance.