You’ve got mail

With the onslaught of e-mail and social networking, letter writing has become a distant memory

There it was, sitting alone in my mailbox, a green envelope containing something many of us don’t receive often, if at all, anymore — a letter.

Tearing it open, I entered a world I have missed with the onslaught of e-mail and social networking, written words, in pen, no less, detailing the recent goings-on of one of my dearest friends who now lives in Munich, Germany — a world away, it seems.

That was way back in March.

I treasured her missive like it had been written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning herself. I carried it with me wherever I went, hoping it would burn in me the desire to write back sooner than later.

I finally made up my mind to write back to my friend while travelling on the ferry to Vancouver Island this past summer. I tucked her letter inside a book I was reading at the time, and then got distracted by my kids who wanted to go up on the upper deck and watch seagulls fly in slow motion.

And wouldn’t you know it? I left the letter and book (another treasure) on board the boat when we disembarked. I had hoped someone would have sent it to me. After all, my address was on the letter, but no such luck.

Since then, I have received only one other letter by post, from my aunt in South Africa, who refuses to get an e-mail account, let alone a computer. She still phones my dad almost every week to catch up on the latest family news, bless her.

But now that it is Christmas time, you’d think more letters would arrive by mail. Sure, people still send actual paper cards, with a note written inside, but more often than not, I receive an e-card containing a friend pictured as a dancing elf.

But a real letter is one of those non-disposable items that used to fill many shoeboxes on my shelf. And I am just as guilty about not writing them.

The desire to scratch a pen on the surface of crisp and colourful stationary is there. I still take notes — the old fashioned way — when I interview people. But to sit down and pour your heart out in a letter is something that has been remiss the past two decades.

It’s a romantic notion that may come back one day, just like vinyl records have. We, as humans, will one day miss that tactile connection we once had with each other. Maybe one day, we will put our iPads on pause to get back to real conversation and communication.

Until then, I will continue to reminisce about the good, old days.

Three decades ago, I had many pen pals from around the world, whom I connected with via a pen pal organization. I only ever met one of them once. She lived in Birmingham, the second largest city in the U.K., and I visited her when I backpacked through the country in 1988. I’ll never forget putting words to a face. It was an almost ethereal experience, and made even more memorable as she worked at the Cadbury’s chocolate factory in nearby Bourneville and loaded me up with sweets as I continued on my journey.

I wonder if she still writes letters?

Letters were also a way for my oldest and dearest friend, whom I met when we were four and growing up together in Montreal, and I to keep in touch after I moved away to Toronto. She later made her way to Alberta, and the letters continued. We even started our own fashion line, where we would send each other our drawn designs. They were hideous, but it didn’t matter.

My best friend now lives only five hours away by car in Nelson, and we communicate far less than we did back when we were kids. Same old story: life, kids, and work have gotten in the way of regular communication.

As for that letter I received in March and then promptly lost, it took me until a week ago to respond. I wrote a 12-page beauty, stuck it in an envelope, and gasped at the cost of an international stamp. But it was worth every hand cramp to write.

I hope she gets it before Christmas.