Snail mail

Several months ago I stumbled across the site of a guy named Rick, who praised the handwritten word and lamented the fact that the postal service is used increasingly less and less for anything other than junk and bills. He therefore began The Letter Project (the website of which now seems to be defunct), in which people email him their addresses and he sends them personally written letters that are “handwritten, tucked into envelopes, stamped and mailed” to the requester.

After reading about his idea, I had to smile. As a child, I loved getting letters in the mail. I didn’t always love it when my parents would give me mail addressed to “Resident,” but rather a personally written letter specifically addressed to me. I was so desperate for mail that I would pathetically send myself postcards from our vacation sites. There was just something special about someone taking the time to write something down and send it across the country (or the state…or the city) to you.

Therefore, I completely understood when the three-year-old brother of one of my students was jealous when I sent his sister a thank-you card for a Christmas present she had given me. At every lesson for a month, he would demand, “Did you bring me a letter?” One day, I finally told him what my mother wisely had told me: “In order to get a letter, you have to send a letter.” A thoughtful look crossed his face. “Okay,” he said, and then ran from the room.

About a week and a half later, as I was sorting through the torrent of bills, advertisements and junk that constantly fills my mailbox, I was surprised to find a small envelope, one that did not look like something identical to what my neighbors had received, drop out onto the table. I recognized the return address, as well as the handwriting.

When I gently opened the envelope, I found an 8-1/2″x11″ sheet of white paper folded into unequal rectangles. On it was a simple message in blue ballpoint pen from young Benjamin, obviously written in his mother’s print:

Dear Megan,
Hi!
This is my handprint.
Love,
Benjamin

The prose was accompanied by the outline of a tiny hand, just a bit larger than the size of the palm of my own hand.

Once I stopped laughing, I rushed to my desk and pulled out a sheet of blue 8-1/2″x11″ printer paper and a black marker. I sat down and began to compose a reply.

Dear Benjamin, (I wrote)
Thank you so much for your letter!
This is MY handprint.
Love,
Megan

Naturally, I accompanied my text with a tracing of my own, decidedly larger hand.

My letter was then folded and sealed in a stamped envelope, and the next day it was in the mail.

When I saw Benjamin two days later at his sister’s lesson, he pushed past his mother and his sister to get to where I was standing. Looking me straight in the eye, he demanded, “Did you get the letter I wrote you?” I replied in the affirmative, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Suddenly, his face contorted once again and, with a look of consternation, he asked, “Then where’s my letter?” Once I explained that my letter had been written and was in the capable hands of the United States Postal Service, he seemed satisfied, and left us to our lesson.

Upon my arrival the following week, I was greeted with a shriek of delight from Benjamin, who had received my letter.

As this tale of correspondence ran its course, I realized how important it is to get a personal letter in the mail. The thought that someone took the time to write to me makes me feel special and loved, and I like feeling like that. It really saddens me that email is the main method of communication nowadays, and, unfortunately, being impersonal and instantaneous, it just isn’t the same thing.

So, I returned to the Letter Project and, after reading the fine print about how my address would not be used for chain mail, I contacted Rick by email and told him I was interested in receiving a letter in the post. I wanted that same thrill that I used to get as a child. I honestly didn’t expect to see anything happen as a result of my email, and I eventually forgot about it.

Almost six months later, as I sorted through the torrent of bills, advertisements and junk, I was surprised to find a small, blue envelope with my name on it. The return address read Pasadena, California. I don’t know anyone in Pasadena, I thought. The name of the sender wasn’t familiar, either. The only possibility that crossed my mind was that perhaps one of my old friends had gotten married, changed her name, and moved to Pasadena. Curious, I opened the envelope.

Inside was a 3″x5″ card with a design printed on one side, and a red ribbon attached through a hole in the top. On the other side was prose printed in neat handwriting with a black felt-tipped pen.

I read the letter with a feeling of utter confusion. Who is this person, I thought. I don’t understand why this person is writing to me. It wasn’t until I got to the last sentence that I finally understood that I had received a letter from the Letter Project.

I smiled at the realization that my request for a letter had been answered. What tickles me most is that I had honestly forgotten about my request, and so the letter was a complete surprise, the same way that it was when I was a child.

I have to commend those behind the Letter Project. I fully support the notion of keeping the tradition of the handwritten letter alive. I’ve actually thought about starting a project like that myself. Perhaps someday I will get up enough momentum to do it.

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