Thursday, January 6, 2011

With Pen and Ink

Today I found myself shuffling through my dwindling stash of note cards and “stationery” for letter writing. It seems the art of letter writing has become obsolete as I realized during the Christmas season. While out shopping, I heard my mother's voice in my head saying, “Stationery... that's a practical gift anyone can use... and include some stamps so they have everything they need to make their letter writing experience complete.” As I picked up a box of beautifully designed note cards for a friend, I suddenly realized how ridiculous this type of gift might be to someone of today's culture. The last birthday greetings I'd sent myself were through the convenience of an online card company, complete with music and the ease of just a click on Send. Sadly, I positioned this once useful gift back on the shelf and walked away wondering what a practical gift in today's world might look like. Perhaps ear buds, a carrying case for a cell phone or maybe a seat cushion for all the hours one might find sitting before a computer screen making contact with friends. Christmas cards came for a few weeks preceding the holidays, but my heart waited in anticipation to find that one envelope that traveled thousands of miles sharing the warm and friendly wishes of someone I barely knew.

It came a few days before Christmas, hiding in between the flyers and junk mail. It was finally here! The handwritten note I'd been expecting from several states away. Standing by my mailbox, I excitedly ripped open the envelope bearing the name of a young woman I've never laid eyes on in the 5 years I've been receiving her correspondence each year. We met on a craft site online, trading recipes and craft ideas and since that time I've been amazed at her faithfulness to send communique each year about how she and her family have spent their year, ending with a prayer and blessing for my Christmas and New Year. This year was no different.

Reading about things unfamiliar to my own family, like hunting at Great Grandma's farm and storing and freezing venison, whisk me away to a place I've never been before. The day to day activities of homeschooling, Lego building, lost teeth, birthdays and driver education classes become pictures in my mind as I fill in the details with my imagination. While I have no real personal frame of reference for many of the things my dear friend shares, I feel a connection to this person so many miles away. I find myself anxiously awaiting the arrival of the stamped and dated envelope inside my mailbox. The familiar slant and curve of her letters in the return address ignites something inside me each year as I draw the letter out of the box and wonder what message it will bring.

There is something uniquely familiar about someone's handwriting. I still pause when going through my recipe box to stare at the handwriting of my mother and grandmother. My mother wrote in a tiny backhand with a slant to the left while my grandmother wrote with lots of open loops in her letters. Something about their handwritten communication touches my heart deeply and I have found myself just tracing their letters with my finger and thinking back on their personal communications to me.

One particular letter stands out for me as I think of my mother's tiny penmanship. Soon after I entered college, I received a letter from my mother explaining how my moving away from her and beginning my life outside my family of origin was like the time they taught me to ride a bike.... “We gave you a little push and then we had to let you go careening down the hill alone,” No doubt they were praying I would not fall but find my way to the bottom safely. The words my mother used that day are written as if with indelible ink on my mind. Words, written in her own hand, with love and a simple picture of what was in her heart. Connection was made on a heart level on a piece of white paper in a basic white envelope, addressed, stamped and dropped inside a mailbox for me.

When I found a blank note card on which to answer my young mother friend's Christmas message, I opened her note once again to the picture of her family (the first one in six years of knowing her from afar) and began to write with pen and ink. It was then I realized I was holding a typed letter in a beautiful and delicate font, complete with typed signature. Turning over the envelope I saw a commercial return address stamp and only my name written in her familiar handwriting. A picture of her beautiful family fell out from between the pages. My imagination would no longer have to create a picture of folks I'd shared a long distance friendship with for years.

As I put pen to paper, I meditated on my personal preference for what some might feel is an archaic way of connecting with others. What words would I share that would bless this person upon receiving my note card in the mail? I pictured her walking through the snow to open up the mailbox to read words of encouragement as a smile came to her lips. It might arrive on a day when all four of her little darlings were coming in from the snow, leaving hats, boots and gloves strewn all around. It could be the first time that day she'd felt someone reaching into her world with a word of support.

Another picture flashed across my mind of my daughter wiping tears from her eyes as she read a note inside her Christmas gift card this year. My son and son in law said their thank yous as they shifted a bit uncomfortably at the thoughts written in my own personal style. Its a mystery how these kinds of words will impact my loved ones in the future. I simply know I must offer them and know they are somehow transferred to an account of the heart. Spoken words of encouragement are by far the best but who can know how many times someone might re-read a message written expressly for them at a time they needed it most?

As each year passes, I find myself succumbing to the culture in which we live and thankful for quick communication via email and text messaging. However, as I have meditated on the thoughts I've shared here, I am sure there will never come a day when hand scribbled notes from little ones nor neatly or otherwise scripted notes of love and encouragement will go out of style. We tend to forget so much of our communication these days, simply because we are so bombarded by the sheer quantity of transmissions that transpire on a daily basis. It's my belief that heartfelt words written in a familiar hand will be those that will be stamped on our hearts for eternity.

“Write what should not be forgotten.”

Isabel Allende

1 comment:

  1. Robin that was a blessing to read. You are so right about the lost art of letter writing. As you thought of buying stationary for a friend remembering your mother telling you what a good gift it was and realizing that this was not so now it reminded me of myself thinking I needed to buy my daughters address books before they pointed out to me that they wouldn't have any need for them, every phone number is on their cell phones and every address is on their computers. I love how you can write about everyday things and make them have so much meaning. You might wish you were hunting at Great Grandma's farm with your friend but your own life is full of many delicious adventures just because you are you, a warm and interested women of substance.


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