A few years ago when I was still teaching, I had a student approach me one day during lunch to ask if I had a stamp. She explained that one of her friends had moved away, and she had written her a letter but had no idea where to get a stamp to mail it. I rummaged through my purse until I found a couple of flag stamps, the edges of adhesive covered in lint but still usable. I asked if she thought she’d write her friend again. She said yes, so I gave her both. I told her how, when I was a kid, getting the mail had been such a thrill…birthday cards, letters from my friend Monica, the latest shipment from the Columbia Record Club! She listened patiently, grateful, I imagine, that she wouldn’t have to ask again the next time she needed a stamp.
I was inspired by that girl, so I immediately went out and bought myself a nice box and filled it with stationery and greeting cards and an assortment of stamps. At first I was vigilant. Well, sort of. My goal was to send one piece of mail to someone each week. As it turned out, I was more likely to send two or three things one week, and then skip the next three weeks. Nevertheless, I worked my way through that box until there wasn’t much left, except some postcards that were too vulgar to mail (postcards don’t have envelopes after all) and the stamps that were leftover after I’d used all the ones with my favorite Pixar characters. (I don’t think I ever saw Monsters, Inc.) Then my attempt to revive snail mail just sort of sputtered out.
This past January, my oldest friend, Monica, and I were reminiscing about the letters we wrote in our childhood, and I pledged to write her letters this year to celebrate our 50th year of friendship. And I promised to write them in cursive! I searched for my sad, almost empty box and found a few sheets of paper at the bottom. I was pretty sure I could make them last the rest of the year if I didn’t write too much.
I can’t really explain my excitement the day I went to the mailbox and found a letter from Monica. She didn’t have any stationery so she had asked her granddaughter to make some by coloring pictures on some plain paper. It was lovely. And she hadn’t said that she was going to write me back, so her letter was entirely unexpected. I think my excitement might have been a little out of proportion…it was just a simple letter, tucked in between the L.L. Bean catalog and the Valpack coupons…but it has completely changed my attitude about the mail. Now when I go to the mailbox, I’m not just looking for packages from Amazon and thinking about how full the recycling bin already is. There’s always the hope I’ll find another letter.
So here’s my challenge to you. Go buy a card or some stationery or get your granddaughter to make you some. Take out a pen and write a letter to someone you care about. Then dig down to the bottom of your purse and find a stamp, or if you’re better at keeping your purse cleaned out than I am, buy one at the grocery store check out. Finally, mail it. Just one. See how it feels. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear back from the person you send it to, but even if you don’t, take satisfaction in knowing that one day they went to retrieve their mail and realized you cared enough to send them a letter. Not an easy email or instant message or text, but a letter.
As for me, I’ve decided to rededicate myself to saving the U.S.P.S. (just in case Donald Trump and Jeff Bezos don’t work things out). I ordered two new boxes of stationery, I went through the card rack while I was waiting at the car wash, and I ordered a new assortment of stamps. Once again, my goal is to mail something to someone every week, but if I end up mailing two things every three weeks, that’ll be okay too.