February 17, 2002
Welcome to Wyndspirit Dreams! Last week I got a surprise from an old pen pal. She sent me a letter I had written her when I was about twenty-one. The letter itself was fairly ordinary. It reminded me of some good times and some bad times. But mostly it reminded me how much I miss pen palling.
I wrote my first letters to patient, much-older cousins, then, when I was about eight, graduated to exchanging letters with the only two girl cousins who were near my age. By then I was hooked on writing letters. I got my first two "real" pen pals when I was twelve, which opened up a whole new world for me. A painfully shy, friendless loner, for the first time in my life I had peers to talk to! I wrote to my first pen pal for several years, but I grew up with my second pen pal, and we have kept in touch for over 25 years now. In my later teens I acquired more pen pals, and the number continued to grow. Some fizzled out, some lasted for years, several became dear friends, and one became my best friend. I learned there is truly no such thing as having absolutely nothing to say, even for somebody living as boring a life as mine. I wrote about my family, school, pets, books, writing… Yes, I even wrote about the weather! As I grew older, I added my plans and hopes and dreams, and then the adventure of leaving home and working in the real world. By my mid 20's, I still had only a few physically close friends, but I had friends all over the world. Thanks to chat rooms, people no longer ask me in amazement how I could become friends with somebody I had never met. I think it's safe to say that these days most people have learned that friendship does not require a physical presence. Like the chat rooms of today, pen palling allowed me to reach beyond the boundaries of my little piece of nowhere and connect with people who shared my interests.
Then they all slipped away. Some of them got too busy with their own lives and dropped me, but most of them I lost during a rough stretch battling depression and a job I loathed. I had no energy left for writing letters, and months passed before I would get a letter answered. Two have stuck with me through thick and thin, and two more keep in touch with sporadic e-mails. I have tried to get back in touch with a couple of my special former pen pals, with no success, and I am mourning the loss. Someday, if my life ever settles down, I may find more pen pals, but new friendships can never replace old friendships.
With the advent of e-mail,
letter writing has become an archaic form of communication, but I don't
think it will every die out completely. I am the first to say that e-mail
is wonderful--it is a quick and convenient way for me to exchange information
with family and friends. However, there are some things that e-mail cannot
do. A letter can give you personality clues that e-mail cannot. Sure, you
can get some idea by how a person uses emoticons, spelling, and capitalization,
but it's still just text. A letter is a feast for the eyes as well. The
handwriting might be small and neat, or large and extravagant. It might
be enhanced by stationery, colored ink, stickers, or rubber stamps, carefully
chosen for the pleasure of the intended recipient. But the best thing a
letter can do is turn a dreary plod to the mailbox to pick up the latest
bills into a pleasant surprise visit from a friend. Getting the mail used
to be the highlight of my day. I sure hope that someday it will be that