People aren’t writing many personal letters these days. A recent Post Office survey reports that last year the typical home received a personal letter about every seven weeks.
The post office says the lack of letters contributes to their continuing financial problems.
They may need to close some post offices, especially smaller ones in rural areas.
That might mean ours. And that would be bad news.
Here in Angels Camp, the post office is more than just a place to pick up mail or drop off packages. Here it’s a social gathering place. People actually stop and visit when they pick up mail.
The post office bulletin board is where locals announce garage sales, missing pets, cars (or car parts) for sale. There are postings from people looking for work and invitations from churches to come worship with the congregation.
Our Post Office also has a smaller, special bulletin board where death notices and funeral announcements are posted.
Most of us who live in these parts know the folks who work at our post office. One of the postal clerks here is (like me) a fan of foreign and art films. Sometimes when I’m picking up a package and there’s no one behind me in line, we’ll chat about what films we’ve seen lately and whether we liked them.
If our local post office were to close it would be a huge blow to the community.
Yet, I’m not writing or receiving many personal letters these days. I think the last personal letter we received arrived about five months ago. And I can’t remember the last personal letter I wrote. Sigh.
Family and friends scattered all over the U.S. use email to stay in touch. I know that lots of people text on their cell phones, but I don’t have a cell and if I did, I’d want to talk (not type) on it. The purpose of a phone for me is to hear the other person’s voice -- that human connection that only a telephone delivers.
Email isn’t as personal or intimate as writing a letter, but it’s quick and easy and efficient. (Things highly valued in today’s America). To tell the truth, I send and receive more communications through email than I would if we were all writing letters. So I guess you can say what we lack in quality we make up for in quantity.
But as I take the time to think about the difference between an email or a clever tweet and a letter, I realize that what an email lacks in quality is a whole lot.
Although my mother died more than 20 years ago, I still treasure a letter she sent me in the early 1970s when I was going through a tough time. Whenever I re-read that sweet and caring letter, I’m warmed not only by the words but also by the beauty of her handwriting, and the knowledge that her hands held that piece of paper that my hands now hold.
And even after all these years, the physical connection of her writing out her thoughts and love on that small piece of flowered paper, folding it, slipping it in an envelope and shipping it off to me, that physical connection remains as I unfold the paper and read her words. Her time, her effort, her love – it’s all contained in the letter itself in a physical way that can’t be duplicated by an email.
I have saved other letters from the days before email. Letters from past loves, letters from fellow writers, letters from readers of my work, letters from long ago friends. Acceptance letters from book publishers and magazines.
I’ve even saved rejection slips. Lots of rejection slips. They accompanied articles I’d sent off hoping for publication. Even though the little pre-printed slip or personally typed note held a rejection, the very fact I got it showed that someone at the magazine had at least taken a look at my work.
Today’s email submissions go out into the electronic universe and often into the black hole of no response rejection. [For those who do not submit articles and stories on line, here’s the scoop. Most of the time when we submit a piece online, we receive an auto-email reply saying "if you haven’t heard from us within four weeks (or some other specified time) you can assume we are not going to be able to use your work."] I find that no-response rejection terribly disheartening. But maybe I’m too sensitive for today’s efficient eworld.
And then, of course, email lacks a stamp. When I was a kid, collecting stamps was a hobby for the curious and those of us who hoped to be world travelers some day. How exciting it was to get stamps from other countries. Because of stamp collecting, I knew about countries like Nicaragua, Peru and Belgium long before we learned about them in geography class.
So is childhood stamp collecting also disappearing?
You know what? Writing about these various cultural losses makes me kind of sad. I think I’m going to spend the evening writing letters to friends. That’ll cheer me up, and won’t they be surprised!
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