I’m a generational anomaly. I love to send and receive mail. Not emails–actual mail, takes-three-days-to-get-there mail, use-an-overpriced-stamp mail. I have already discussed my relative certainty that I’m one of the only “young people” who still reads newspapers, but I’m also reasonably confident that I’m one of the only people anywhere, regardless of age, who genuinely enjoys writing thank you notes.
Three summers ago, I started corresponding with a pen pal. My friend Nate went away to college at the United States Air Force Academy. During 6 weeks of Basic Training the summer before his freshman year, Nate was permitted to contact his family and friends through occasional letters—no Facebook, no phone calls, no telegrams, no nothing. Just snail mail. So I wrote him a few letters. He wrote back. I realized I really liked writing to someone who wouldn’t read my message immediately and who couldn’t respond instantaneously. I appreciated the time delay. I started keeping a journal of sorts, and I would write to Nate every day in a yellow spiral notebook. I filled the book with recollections of my days, frustrations, questions, and word searches.
Basic Training came to an end and Nate came back to civilization and the world of technology, but we continued to write letters. Then, the summer after his freshman year at Air Force—the summer before my freshman year at Notre Dame—Nate was called to go on his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. He was randomly assigned to serve his church for two years in Taiwan. After a few weeks of intensive Mandarin Chinese courses and some Mormon-y stuff in Utah, Nate was off to Taiwan. He was allowed two phone calls home per year, one on Christmas and one on Mother’s Day. Other one email home per week, Nate was again relegated to communicating by letters.
We were right back where we had been the summer before. Sending a letter to Taiwan is a bit more difficult than sending a letter to Colorado, and it takes longer for the letter to arrive at its destination, but, all in all, the process was pretty much the same. I continued to fill journals and send them to Nate. I’d fold up newspaper clippings (Barack Obama is running for President! Look at who’s coming to the State Fair!) and tape in photographs. When I found out who I was assigned to room with at ND, I printed out a picture of her and slipped it in the book. I probably captioned it with something like, “This is my new roommate Erin!!! I hope she’s nice and not crazy!!!”
The semesters passed by and I dutifully archived Nate’s weekly emails. Because I’m old-fashioned, I check my mailbox at school every day. Every six weeks or so, I would unlock the little metal door and find a red and blue striped airmail envelope inside. I’d race up to my room and unfold the letter. The stamps from Taiwan were my favorite part—they always seemed to depict something very nationalist and kind of creepy, like a smiling family with one child. It’s amazing to me that a letter from a friend can travel so far for just $1.07. What a small price to pay for something to read and touch and save. Think about that. A text message costs 10 cents, conveys next to nothing, and deletes automatically if you’ve got too many of them. Poof. A letter costs a little more time (but not much more money) and can last a lifetime.
I don’t know if Nate kept the tomes I filled and carefully mailed off to him, but I still have every letter we exchanged. The letters filled a Ziploc bag in the top drawer of my desk, and I have a few scattered about my room at home.
Nate came home from Taiwan this summer. We grabbed smoothies, went out to breakfast, and did all the normal catching-up things that friends who haven’t seen each other in two years should do. After only 3 weeks at home with his family, Nate had to go back to Colorado for Air Force training and summer school.
A few days ago, I got a text message from Nate. He’s starting training exercises soon, so he’ll be out of touch for a week or so, but he wanted to get my address in India before he went dark and I went on vacation. I was confused. “My address in India? Don’t you mean my address at school?” “You’re still going to India, aren’t you? You wrote me letters in Taiwan. I want to write you a letter in India.”
Can’t wait to hear from you.