Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Wading through the past

I really enjoy writing paper, envelope, stamp letters.  I like sending mail, I like receiving mail. Before email and Messenger and Skype and Facebook, letters were where it was at for catching up on everything after "I'm so sorry I haven't written in sooooooo long!"  For 20¢ (a little more for international), I could send pages and pages or a single card to a friend somewhere else in the world.  Getting a letter or card filled with words of encouragement, love, or "this is what I did today, how about you?" was simply connectivity at its finest.

But man, after Ian and I built a family together and email came about, fewer paper letters overall and I quit writing in general, and so did all my friends. I have sifted through stacks of Christmas cards, Valentine's Day cards, Easter cards,  starting in the late 70s. When was the last time you received a Halloween card in the mail from a friend? Granted, I'd much rather receive a letter than a card any day, but the sheer number of cards I've read through in the past couple days...

Because I am reading them. Each one. Each card, letter, note, newspaper clipping, postcard and I have some thoughts so bear with me, or just skip the rest.

* My best friend from Algiers, my longest friend starting in 3rd grade, I didn't realize that I'd kept in touch with her through almost the entirety of high school. And then poof, nothing. I have no idea where she is, so if you know a Nadia Othman who was in Algiers and the child of Iranian and Polish parents, can you hook me up?

* Middle school was one of the highlights of my life. Friends from Niger came to my wedding. I still know where a bunch of them are and follow them on FB. These were such special people and I miss them. When I left Niamey, the letter-writing began in earnest.

* My two closest friends from high school, Meredith and Kristin, are FB friends and we wrote back and forth all through college. Long letters about college life, semesters abroad, summer jobs.

* College. For as poor as we all were we wrote a lot of letters, especially the summer of 1992. I'm FB friends with a number of college buddies and I recall how funny and clever and sweet they were.

* Starting in 1994, the majority of letters I still own are between Ian and I. They are delightful and bring me such joy and contentment. I may not have known at the beginning that he was absolutely the right person for me, but reading through, I should have known. I should have seen it - these letters outlined the building blocks as we head towards our 24th wedding anniversary.

As expected, the full range of emotions are found in all these mementos.

Boredom was pretty prevalent in the summer letters, unfulfilling part-time jobs will do that.  But the flip side was a lot of excitement for school to start up again so our gang could reform.

Joy was a big one too. We shared a lot about our plans and were encouraging and hopeful. There was a block of letters where I told my friends about my engagement and my 1st pregnancy all at once.  I'm sure in the background there's a lot of "better her than me," but in the words there was nothing but well wishes and support.

There are letters from ex-boyfriends and those elicit a word of gratitude for being stepping stones to where I am now - which I hope they see the same way.

There was some angst. Friends falling out with each other, me falling out with them. How I wish I could go back and fix some of the stupid I did. Some stories are pieced together from a note here and a line there. One of my closest friends in college was my roommate of 3 years, but I did what a lot of people do when they find a new love and my roommate suffered for it, and as a result so did I because she's not in my life anymore. Like I said, stupid.

And sadness, there's some sadness in these letters as well. Letters from my parents, cards from friends who tried so hard to be good and kind to me as I shrugged them away, long passages explaining a mistake or a hurt or a desire for something to change.

But most of all there is love, love in all its forms.  Love in concern, love in excitement, love in the pure love of friends sharing themselves with each other. I had so many friends, the letters prove it. People who took out time to write. Clearly, one of my love languages is the written word, because a pad of nice paper, a good pen, and an afternoon to write to someone I care about is a package of happiness, and receiving a letter tells me that person thought of me with the same love (even if they didn't know it :) )

Most of the letters are no longer with me now. It's time to say goodbye. They'll live fresh in my memory for now, and fade once again over time but they won't be renewed. Oh, I've kept a number of them. Ones that chatted about shared adventures or momentous occasions, most of the letters from Ian and my relationship, notes from my kids, my parents, and my grandparents.

In another 20 years I may reread them to touch on again how lucky I am to have been so loved my entire life. Even as I know how lucky I am right now.

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