When I was a freshman at the Academy of the Holy Cross, our French teacher Mademoiselle Karen presented us with an exciting project. We would each write letters to a student overseas, forcing us to practice both our penmanship and our emerging language skills.
I was so happy to receive a letter in the mail several weeks later. It was from a young man named Etienne in a small town near Lyon. His stationery was thin blue onion skin, the penmanship was feathery and full of flourishes. Fortunately his letter was half English, half French. His English, predictably, was far superior to any of my childish attempts at his language.
Ever since then, I’ve always been thrilled to get a letter addressed to me, especially if it includes postmarks and stamps from some far-away destination. Friends away on vacation, relatives in Ireland. I love sending and receiving tourist postcards from some sunny shore.
When my kids were away at scout camp, or a class retreat, I would open their letters, full of longing and gratitude. To be clear, I would be full of longing and gratitude, not their letters necessarily.
Getting Past the Junk
These days our mailboxes are full of unrequested catalogs, utility bills, and mail we think of as “Junk.” But how often do we ever receive a lovely, handwritten piece of personal correspondence? A happy surprise that often arrives slowly? Now, we call missives that come to us in the time-tested way “Snail Mail,” to distinguish them from any form of immediate communication that has led to a general impatience.
Our Postal Service needs us. This current coronavirus crisis has decimated its budget and it is in danger of going bankrupt. Plus, the Trump is actively trying to undermine the post office in advance of the election, worried about the impact of mail-in ballots.
Beyond signing petitions and putting up yard signs, we can take other steps to save the post office and the sanctity of our elections. Can we even imagine a world without mail carriers? Without stamps?
Oh my gosh the stamps! If you go on the USPS website you can purchase gorgeous stamps. A series on our National Parks. A Black Heritage portrait of Gwen Ifill! A series of music icons, like Marvin Gaye! John Lennon. I have sheets of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Johnny Cash just sitting in my office, asking to go on a journey! Campaigns are encouraging us to buy stamps to help the post office get through this dire time.
We have an idea to add to that one. Let’s write each other beautiful letters, and shoot photos and post them on Facebook, using the #SaveUSPS and #buystamps hashtags. Let’s write to friends and family. Let’s meet new NextTribe penpals, maybe someone we don’t know already.
We can take it a step farther and write to shut ins who may not have anyone to correspond with: Older neighbors, people in retirement homes. Or maybe someone who is recovering from the virus. If you need some encouragement, our good friend Courtney Santana is spearheading a letter-writing effort to survivors, seniors, and first responders.
Or you can send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll match you up with a NextTriber friend who wants to correspond.