Monday, January 30, 2006

The Real Lost Art

This weekend I was transferring some keepsakes from a cardboard box which had been sitting in storage at my parents' house for some twelve years to a sturdier, waterproof Rubbermaid container. I was grinning a lot as I found another of my journals kept for all of three weeks when I was a sophomore in high school and a pile of notes my friends and I had passed concerning all kinds of important teenage girly stuff. And there was the jar of sand I had collected from atop the Great National Sand Dunes Park when I was in the ninth grade, a jar my son subsequently knocked over and broke sending bits of National Sand Dune all over the guest room carpet. *sigh*

But the best treasure in that box was a packet of letters I had received when I was in college and had kept because they were special. Some are cards sent from my mother. The handful of letters I got from the boy I'd been in love with in high school from his college in far off Texas. Even a letter from my little brother, probably the only one he wrote the entire five years I was at school.

Best of all were the dozen or more letters sent to me by my boyfriend at the time when he and I had gone our ways for summer vacation. Wonderful letters that took me back like it was yesterday.

I sat on the floor and read all of them, and after wiping a tear away and explaining the huge smile on my face to my husband, I wondered what happened to him. He was a great guy, and we dated for three years. In fact, he was almost The One, and I honestly think it was only my immaturity that kept me from being able to really commit. I love my husband and I don't regret the way my life has gone, but this guy was certainly one that Got Away with much second guessing on my part in later years.

Anyway, I've honestly never Googled anybody from my past with any real intent, but I set out to see if I could find him. About seven or eight pages deep in the Google results, I did locate somebody that I was 99% sure was him (the picture provided at the end of the link helped a lot on that score). I took a deep breath and e-mailed him, hoping I had the right guy or if not, the guy I did get wouldn't think I was too much of a kook.

I had the right guy, and he graciously e-mailed me back, albeit a little weirded out at hearing from an old girlfriend out of nowhere. I assured him I had no ulterior motive other than a bout of nostalgia, and I'm hoping that we can keep in touch. It's thrilling to me when I have a chance to re-connect with people who meant so much to me in the past but for whatever reasons have since disappeared from my life.

What all this got me to thinking about, though, is how tragic it is that the art of letter writing is going by the wayside. I don't have any hard facts, but I know that I never write letters anymore. I send cards for birthdays and holidays, and I write the occasional thank-you note. But nearly all of my correspondence is via e-mail. And I'd be willing to bet that most young people today contact each other electronically or on the phone.

Which means that twenty years from now, they will not have a box full of old letters to distract them from a dreary January afternoon. They will not have the chance to remember voices from the past or to relive old feelings and wonder what happened to old friends. They won't get to read about events that had happened that they'd forgotten all about. Somehow a printout of "C U L8R" isn't even remotely close. Sure, their cell phones can take pictures. But despite the saying, a thousand words is a thousand words.

I've said before that I'm going to encourage my kids to keep written journals. And I'm going to make an effort to correspond with them via letters when they leave home. There's a good chance they'll be like my husband and very unsentimental, tossing what I've written after they've read it. But if they decide to keep them, they'll have something to remember me by some day when I'm gone.

In case anyone out there reads this and is worried, I also have a box of letters and cards sent to me by my now-husband. Thankfully he was romantic and attentive when we were dating.

Now, we're both pretty cool with e-mails.

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