“It seems strange
How we used to wait for letters to arrive.
But what’s stranger still
Is how something so small can keep you alive.” ~ Arcade Fire
When I was nine years old, I was a very curious child. I enjoyed exploring unexplored places in my house. One of these places were my parent’s room. There were these large dusty drawers that nobody opened, because they were large and dusty. I saw them as a challenge. Deep inside I felt I was going to discover some old artifacts dating back to the years of my grandparents, making me even more determined to find something. I had developed a strong passion for ancient things by then because ancient things have stories. And stories have value.
That was when I found the letters.
In the far back of the drawer, there was a stack of letters tied carefully together . They had that old smell that I love. I remember I observed it like some weird but fascinating object that was going to reveal some hidden secret, some hidden story that was going to complete the puzzle of my family history. When I opened them, I saw that they were love letters. Love letters of my parents. I smiled but immediately felt that I was intruding the lives of two complete strangers who lived in another world that I will never get to know. A world that I never got to be a part of. The letters were written in a formal french. They had an elegant and cursive handwriting, clearly written with care and patience. It got me thinking. These love letters made thoughts nearly tangible. Through your written words, you show who you are. You make mistakes, some scratches, some hesitation in putting a coma or not. A letter isn’t just paper and pen. There is that personal feeling, that personal touch that comes with it. That is what I saw through my parents’ love letters. And it made it even more beautiful, because these letters are tangible proof that a love like my parents’ existed. I got to know, through the way they interacted, who they were before I was born. I was feeling the same sense of warmth I felt when my father reminisced his ‘courting’ days with my mother: the weird food they ate on their first date and how my grandfather always waited with an eye on the family clock when my mother had to return home after a day with my father. Emails cannot do that. Just like reading a book and an e-book is completely different. But letters, letters are much more special. Sadly, the new generation will never get to really know what it is to wait weeks for a letter from our dear ones. Most people of my age would say they never got a handwritten letter, but I’m glad to say that I did, once.
When I was first exposed to the world wide web, I discovered a website called Students-of-the-world, which connected young people from all around the world. Each and every one of us signed up with the aim of finding a genuine friend. I put up my home address into the ‘snail mail’ list without knowing what ‘snail mail’ meant. Six years later, when I forgot all about that website, and was completely engrossed into the much more efficient Facebook, I received a letter from an 8 year old Canadian girl asking me to be her friend. I saw the doodles, the margins, the cute handwriting that made me realize that thousands of kilometers from where I was, a little girl sat down and wrote this letter to me. She took a moment to think about me, a complete stranger. Needless to say, the Disney stickers were the ones that stole my heart.
I was feeling something that no conversations on Facebook could ever replace. It was not about efficiency this time, it was about finding a friend. A true friend. A friend somewhere in the world who is genuinely interested in what you feel, in what you are going through and who is willing to help however he/she can. I am glad I got that letter. It could have gone to anyone who could care less. But it came to my letter box, and I think it happened for a reason. It reestablished my faith in humankind as I started to believe in the genuineness of people. A Facebook/Skype conversation could never achieve that feat.
Unfortunately, I never got the occasion to reply to the little girl. I felt really bad for some time but then I realized that she probably sent multiple letters to other people since the good thing about the website is that we never run out of people to send letters to.
I want people to realize that we need to maintain that art in a world that is becoming paperless. We focus too much on efficiency at the expense of individuality. Things have become easy, but at what price? Letter-writing is an art that has allowed people in despair to clutch letters to their chest whenever they felt lonely. A man who is ready to take his life uses Facebook as a way to say goodbye to friends and family and that night he ends up sleeping with a stack of letters tucked beneath his pillow, scripted by people who were there for him when.
The mere fact that somebody would even just sit down and pull out a piece of paper and think about someone the whole way through, with an intention that is so much harder to unearth when the browsers are up and the Iphone is pinning and we’ve got six conversations rolling in at once, that is an art form that does not fall down to a life that gets faster no matter how many social networks we might join. We still clutch closely those letters to our chest, to the words that speak louder than loud, when we turn pages into pallets to say the things that we have needed to say, the words that we have needed to write to sisters and brothers and even to strangers for far too long.