Ours is an age in which we have the ability to communicate with people hundreds and thousands of miles away- almost immediately. All we need is internet and a smart phone to connect with email or Facebook and send our thoughts halfway around the globe. I’m from Michigan and living in Alaska, so I definitely count this as a blessing. I’m able to ask my closest friends and family for advice about an event happening in 24 hours and, most likely, that will be enough time for them to respond with their sage wisdom.
When I talk about internet correspondence, I’m not only referencing online “chatting” or business emails, but also those longer notes to friends or people who are becoming friends. These are similar to traditional letters in composition and I have had meaningful and pleasant correspondence with my friends through them. So, with all the benefits of communicating through modern technology, why would anyone utilize the United States Postal Service anymore…other than to send back some pants you bought online that are too big?
As far as I can tell, it’s because almost anyone I’ve talked to enjoys receiving a piece of physical mail that is not a bill or advertisement. Why? WHY DO WE LOVE GETTING MAIL?
I’ve been thinking about this. As I was thinking, it occurred to me that mail can communicate in more than just one “love language.” Unfortunately most advertising companies haven’t tapped into their loving side, but friends and family often do. The love languages are words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, touch and gifts. Obviously it is very easy to send words of affirmation in a letter, so let’s move on to time spent.
It’s easy to send a note online. There have been a few notes I’ve labored over before sending, but if it’s a normal note I quick type it, press send and swoosh– it’s flown to Grand Rapids. When I write a letter with a pen, I am required to take my time. Quality time. I sit down at the table and compose, trying all the while to not shape my letters like a five year old. I make sure to put down what’s most important- I think beyond the immediate because this letter will not reach my friend immediately. I find the person’s address, label the envelope and slap a stamp on. Then, I include a trip to the post office in my schedule. Some people may feel loved by this as an act of service as well. On the other end, when I sit down to read a letter I’ve received, I’m very aware of this process. I spend time with this letter that is a part of my friend- her thoughts, her change and her schedule. Then, I begin to write back. The cycle of quality time being spent and acts of service being performed for another continues.
However important the words in a letter and the mailing of it may be, its value extends beyond. Bear with me while I try to explain how touch enters this conversation. Obviously you cannot physically touch someone who is not in your presence. So, I’m applying this a bit abstractly. If you’ve ever received a letter that smelled like the person who sent it or if you’ve been left with a loved one’s sweater when he goes away for a long time, it may be easier for you to understand what I’m trying to communicate. It’s more than just the smell that makes us smile when we pick up that letter or that sweater- it’s the fact that they touched it. That it was with them, almost a part of them. And, when we touch a letter, in a small transcendent sort of way, it is as if we are holding the writer’s hand as they talk to us from across the table.
For those of you who I am about to lose with this touch feely business, I’d like to discuss a love language that can be literally applied- gifts. One of the fun things about sending mail is that you aren’t limited to two dimensions. You can go beyond words. I’ve sent colorful leaves, candy, mints and a variety of other things through the mail. Today I received a box from my aunt. She sent a card and a variety of goodies (including popcorn, coffee and chocolate) and two books. It was like Christmas! Not only did I feel loved by her kind words, the time she spent putting it together and the fact that she arranged it with her own two hands- I also felt loved because she sacrificed to buy me things she knew I would enjoy. I cannot wait to dig into some Anne Lamott!
I think it’s unfortunate that technology has made sending mail through the post a rarity. Please don’t misunderstand me- I think communicating through technology is valuable and I have OFTEN felt very loved through letters that have been sent to me online. But, I have a proposal: If we enjoy receiving mail so much, why don’t we send it more often?
Indeed, it requires a bit more sacrifice, but that’s why it carries love.
Mail on, you Encouragers, Time Spenders, Servants, Touchy Types and Gift Givers. And, don’t forget to include a return address.