A faint mustiness tickled my nose and flooded my mind with nostalgia. I was rifling through a jumble of letters, many of them more than ten years old, most of them addressed to me in the familiar handwriting of one or the other of my grandmothers. Clutching those plump envelopes, now crackly and stiff with age, I recalled my early years of writing and receiving letters…when I discovered I loved words, and that I wasn’t alone in a sea of strangers.
I was 9. My missionary parents were led by the Lord to move from our island church, where we had ministered for four years, to the mainland to start new churches, so our family was transplanted to the bush. The Australian meaning of the word “bush” was but one of the many things I had to learn as we adjusted. Our new area’s only vestiges of civilization were its grade school and clinic; there were no stores, no electricity, no phone service, and no post office. These things didn’t bother me directly; it was the aloofness of the local children that I couldn’t understand, after living in the bustle of town so long. It took years for the people of our village to warm to us and accept us as friends instead of foreigners.
During those years, both my grandmothers and a handful of churches wrote us letters and birthday cards as often as they could, and my dad brought them home from the town post office whenever he traveled out for groceries. Since snail mail kept up its reputation by delivering all parcels to our corner of the Pacific two months later than expected, each scrap of package and scribble of writing was precious. I still possess most of my correspondence of those years, and birthday cards usually came to grace our simple walls as trophies of sentimental art.
My spelling and phraseology, not to mention penmanship, have come a long way since those days of rambling updates sent Stateside semioccasionally. The rambling quality hasn’t changed much. But a significant victory marked the day I was able to end a decent letter within a week of beginning to pen it. The intense process of remembering and recording every tidbit of interest from the last several months of silence into one lengthy letter, used to take me a month of labor and an alarming casualty list of pens.
(Much as this post threatens, minus the pens because I have moved into the digital age or whatever it is called now and I use a smartphone and keyboard.) But I glimpse hope in my progress, noting the fact that each blog post–my letter to you, unnamed individual–is begun and completed in the selfsame day instead of the ominously expected month. At least, until I start college…
Anyway. Though my style of letter writing has changed over time, as well as my methods (I email much more now), I still have no idea what I am doing or if I even make sense. I don’t sign off with a “sincerely” or “love” or “in Christ,” because they all sound stilted. I try not to include the inevitable first paragraph full of the “I’m sorry I haven’t written in so long” jargon. Such is life. Time’s escape surprises everybody. Move on into why you decided to write at all.
And I don’t expect perfect letters from others. As the quote goes, “It’s the thought that counts.” It’s the sweet, simple knowledge that somebody cared enough about you to take a sheet of paper and a pen and transfer that caring (no matter how ungrammatical) into something tangible. Something for you to stash away in a special place and savor in quiet moments and save for that day of dull, aching loneliness when a friend’s words are like cold water to a soul in drought. That’s the power of a letter.
God knew how much letters would mean to man. That’s why He wrote His own stack of letters and bound them up into a marvelous anthology called the Bible–the Letter that has better sustained generations of mankind than any human pen. And of all the mail I have received over my lifetime, His letter is my favorite.