Thursday, April 12, 2012

Save the Postal Service: Promote the lost art of letter writing

Dear Comrades,

Recently, there has been a lot of debate on the possible closing of several U.S. post offices. The closing of post offices in my mind is closely linked to the dying art of letter writing. And while my rational mind understands that in the natural evolution of things the Internet will eventually lead to the death of the handwritten letter, on an emotional level, I still find it hard to accept.

In today’s world, when the old order constantly keeps changing to make way for new, we have to be able to accept this rapid change and evolve with it in order to fit in. And yet, one of those things that I am unable to let go off is the dying practice of letter writing. In my opinion, it is a tragedy of modern times that we no longer write letters to each other.

Both of my parents passed away many years ago but in their lifetime they wrote many letters to me.

My father was a particularly eloquent and prolific writer and was able to state things in a uniquely sweet way. Now that he is gone, I still read and reread his letters and they bring me much comfort. Looking at his handwriting, as he makes the words come alive, I almost forget that he is no longer with us in this world. The handwritten word is indelible in a way that the printed word cannot be.

It is not just comfort that I derive but also guidance. My father’s letters give me guidance in moments when I might stray from my path. 

For instance, he once wrote to me, and I quote, “There will be situations and pressures in life that will tempt you to change but do not become an inferior human being just for the sake of expediency. I love you immensely for who you are.” Whenever I am on the verge of falling through the cracks, I read these words and I am impelled to take the high road.

At other times when I am depressed by life and some of its failures I read his words from another letter in which he wrote, “I regard myself as privileged to be your father. I am always proud of you.” And once again I feel elevated and positive about life. I’m sure war widows, soldiers, orphans, and immigrants living far away from their families would all have old letters serving as mementos of their past life.

Some people might argue that Facebook has made the need for letter writing redundant as a way of keeping in touch with old friends. Indeed, how can a lowly hand written letter compare with all the glossy photos and instant messages and even videos that you can now send. But I can tell you from personal experience, the value of those letters to me is worth a thousand pictures. They bring my parents alive as nothing else can. I almost feel like they are in the room when I read their powerful, loving words.

I thought about how I could now bring back the epistolary art instead of forever mourning its demise. The best way, I realized, was to start writing letters myself. So that is my next big project. I’m going to write to all my dear friends, and most of all, when my children go away to college, I will write to them.

Maybe they will appreciate it or maybe they won’t, but it will at least help me leave a little piece of me behind for them to hold on to for those moments when life throws out its curve balls and only a mother can handle it.
In the meanwhile, all I can say is, long live the Postal Service!

Shamita Mahajan of Overland Park works part-time at Oxford Middle School. She has two children, a son at Overland Trail Middle School and a daughter at Blue Valley North. She has lived in India, England, France and several U.S. cities, and has traveled extensively.

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