An Ode to Snail Mail

In my house growing up there was a space reserved on our kitchen counter for “important documents.” Permission slips that needed signing, and T shirt orders that needed filling out. This spot is where my sister and I would find notes to give the front office of our high school explaining our absences, and Post-Its from our dad reminding us to “Drive slow and easy,” not forget our dentist appointment that was immediately after school, and have a good day. Blank “thank you” cards were also a staple in this spot. 

For as long as I can remember, my parents made us write thank you cards. After our elementary school birthday parties everyone in attendance got a hand written note thanking them for coming. Every grandparent got a note after Christmas. As a kid, writing a thank you card can feel like a  needless, tedious task. After all, didn’t I say thank you in person? (Of course after being prompted with a “What do you say?” from mom or dad.) But as I got older, I started to see the value in it; I myself had received some thank yous and noticed how good it felt to know that your good deed or gift was appreciated. Perhaps I was particularly appreciative of these mailed notes because I myself knew how time consuming they could be. It felt nice to know that someone had taken time out of their day to write to me, even if only a few lines. 

Not only did my parents make us write thank you cards to make the people in our lives aware of our gratitude, they lead by example. (I say “make” but after a certain age they just constantly reminded us that we should write to so and so until we were annoyed in to doing it.) My mom was, and still is, the queen of A Note for No Reason, particularly if she knows someone is going through a rough time. Not only will she send them a note letting them know they are in her thoughts, she’ll send multiple, perhaps one a week for three or four weeks. To this day, my dad will send the parents of his students handwritten notes whenever their kid has done something he thinks their parents would be proud to hear. My dad teaches at a university therefore I can only imagine how appreciative those parents are for a note from their kid’s professor. I am also a common recipient of my parents’ snail mail. 

In my own adult life I have found immense satisfaction and even catharsis in writing to someone. Writing to someone is anxiety easing in a way similar to journaling, but with one main difference: when journalling I am writing to my future self, therefore I only think about me while I do it. But when I’m writing someone a letter, a thank you note, or even a few lines on a postcard I am thinking about them. It’s cathartic because it is selfless. It gives me a space to think about someone other than myself for a few moments. I usually briefly update the person on my life, something particularly personal to the person to whom I am writing; I don’t tell them about the aspect of my life that I find most interesting, but the aspect in which they would be most interested. It is also nice to share a memory I have of that person, something we did together that makes me smile when I think of it. This I am trying to do more often. 

Writing to someone is also a great antidote to missing them. Sure, sending someone a text that I’m “thinking of” or “missing” them can achieve a similar feeling, but there’s something about putting pen to paper that makes the sentiment more genuine. Not to mention the time it takes to go to the post office, buy a stamp, and actually send mail. The process of mail is much slower than texting (Duh, SNAIL mail) and therefore, more methodical, more thoughtful. Snail mail is the opposite of haste whereas texting can epitomize it. Think of all the mundane reasons we text people. When I attempt to share feelings or thoughts deeper than “wyd” through texting those sentiments, no matter how genuine, often get reduced to the flippancy of “nm hbu.” There is something formal about snail mail because it is no longer our go to form of communication. 

In my mind, writing to someone is like praying for them. I’ve never been a religious person so I usually use the phrase “sending you positive thoughts/light/love” when most people would use the phrase “praying for you.” However writing to someone, holding them in the center of my thoughts, even if for a few lines, is like saying a prayer for them. It may lack a deity or divine intention, but the sentiment is the same – to wish well for someone. To hope that there is fulfillment in their lives. Or perhaps to just hope that the weather is nice where they are. 

At this time in my life, I live at least a three hour drive from anyone who really knows me, and it can often feel like everyone I care about is very far away from me. Therefore, I’ve recently been attempting to widen my web of people I send mail to; it gives me a chance to feel connected to them for a few moments. And those moments of connection not only ease my anxiety and loneliness, they also bring me a quiet joy. Therefore, this November I am thankful for snail mail and all the ways we are able to stay connected.

Post Script:

If you’re reading this thinking, “Why aren’t I one of those people receiving snail mail?” it is most likely because I do not have your address, something that can be easily rectified. 

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