Saturday, January 31, 2009

Snail Mail and Postage Stamps

You can believe it, snail mail is now an official term in the English language. When I emailed someone from work, asking her to snail mail me more copies of a community service brochure, she replied that she would "send them U.S. mail." I suppose it is a very casual term, or she was unfamiliar with it, but I'm thankful the idea of physical letters with stamps is still part of our culture. It's fading fast. The Washington Post recently reported that the U.S. Postal service may be forced to cut it's delivery service from six days a week to five, partially due to declining mail being sent. No longer does the mail carrier even need to come to my door every day; most of my bills are electronic, and most of my correspondence with friends and family is online. Niether do I need to purchase postage stamps every month like I once did; with the Internet, one roll can last indefinitely.

I hope I'm not the only person nostalgic for this very human part of American culture.
Some of the kindest things people have said to me over the years, in good times and bad, were said in a letter delivered by the mailman. These words would not have stayed in my memory from emails or text messages. I'm thankful that when I was in college and having a rough week with studies or personal matters, an inspirational card or clipped magazine article from my mom would arrive on exactly the right day. I'm thankful that my former neighbor, Colleen, took the time to send a letter and paperback book to our new address, wishing us well in our new community. And most recently I'm extremely grateful to a special lady named Ruthie, who repeatedly sent her sweet homemade cards over the space of a year when my life was falling apart. None of these messages could have conveyed the care by electronic means; the pen was the healer's touch.

Some messages are not so endearing. In another chapter of my life an unsigned neighbor didn't mail her letter to me, but dropped it off on my front porch when I had a newborn baby to feed and a small business to keep alive. She said our lawn was "going to seed" and she was going to report it to the city. She should have used snail mail, and I would have known not to even open it in the first place. But positive personal messages are always more memorable when sent by mail, rather than email, text, and fax. I have yet to try the fax, but something tells me it wouldn't be too well received. If the post office is going broke, why not share a little kindness with our friends and family by using a stamp or two?

After years of what I call "hyper-efficiency" and too much multi-tasking, I've decided to take another route: the slow road. And after all the nice letters and cards that have been sent to me over the years, I may as well include this more frequently on my daily agenda. Instead of scanning a recipe and emailing it to my domestically-gifted sister in Spokane, I dusted off the stamps, located an envelope, and dropped in a short personal note. Instead of texting or emailing my college-age children to see how their day was going, I pulled some unused cards off the shelf at my desk and wrote each a short letter. There is a stronger, even physical, connection made when we actually hand-write a message rather than striking a keyboard. I felt it when I wrote the cards and note the other day. I felt it when I opened my cards and letters from Mom, Colleen, and Ruthie. So, instead of the ultra-efficient e-birthday card I was just about to send , I'll be heading to my favorite card shop--I hope I can remember the stamps.

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