The Present Past

I have this dream that I will never live to see fulfilled. Now, before you sigh and purse your lips, hear me out. It’s not sad. It’s just that, by necessity, I will be dead when it happens.

My dream is that someone a hundred years from now will read my mail. Is this an odd dream to have? Perhaps, but it’s actually one of the few dreams I truly believe could happen someday (getting trapped in a Smithsonian museum with Amy Poehler not withstanding). Think about it…Did Mercy Warren think I’d be chuckling with her in the 21st century when she sent private jokes to John Adams in the 1700s? Could William Mallory possibly have anticipated I’d take a quote from a letter he wrote in 1900 and post it on Facebook and get 14 likes? Not a chance, but they wrote mail and they kept mail–I read and enjoy dead peoples’ mail–because it is tangible evidence of having been alive.

I don’t just mean breathing and blinking. Simply having a pulse doesn’t determine the style and quality of your letters. When I say “alive,” I mean really living–who you loved, your enemies, what made you laugh, the things that hurt you, the way you held a pen, your favorite words. More and more, the things we write and create disappear. Text messages are deleted to make room for more. Facebook statuses get buried in deluge and are rarely recovered. SnapChats are actually programmed to be fleeting. Even e-mails get lost as you switch providers. A letter, provided it doesn’t burn or disintegrate, is another story.

I’m not being a Luddite. If I was, I wouldn’t be blogging this; I’d be writing it in a journal. There is value and I find satisfaction in almost all the forms of communication I occasionally disparage for their glibness. I’m just saying, there’s something about the time it takes to send a letter, to write a letter, to read a letter. There’s something about all the parts that go into it–paper, an envelope, a pen, knowing someone’s address, stamps, walking to the post office. It’s special and uplifting to send and receive letters, and I wish I took part in the process more often. It’s just…with everything else being so easy, I forget how much I love letters.


The past month has been absolutely horrendous for me. As you know, I gave up Facebook for Lent, an experiment that–to be honest–could not be going worse. Shortly after unintentionally cutting myself off from all my friends, I lost my pet snake/work out buddy/t.v. pal, Lettuce, who I loved. I was rejected by boys, who I didn’t. I ran into someone I never expected to see again–and not in a good way. Work consumed my life. I had a few bad dance classes. The walls of my tiny room began to close in, and I spent the past week alone, awake, and hungry. Not ideal.


But today I got up and made breakfast. I watched the first episode of a Ken Burns documentary and then started cleaning my room. I did two weeks’ worth of laundry, changed my sheets, reorganized my drawers, watched Holes, listened to music, ate lunch, lit a candle, put my laundry away, and then I thought I would look through some of my miscellany boxes after dinner.

As I mentioned earlier, I have this dream that my mail will be read in the future and someone–anyone, really–will think I was pretty neat. To this end, I keep everything–receipts, tickets, ribbons, maps, doodles, photos, concert programs…I even have the post-its my college advisor gave me with corrections for my thesis, but I’m getting ahead of myself. This is about letters, after all, not general nostalgia (of which, I can assure you, I have tons)…

Back to the point: it may not be one hundred years since my death, and I may be the only one who reads my mail right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s meaningless. As I opened cards and letters from my freshman year of college, from my time abroad in Ireland, I was confronted with nothing but love. When bad things begin to grow up around you like thick grass, it can be easy to forget the people that care about you, it can be easy to think you’ll be lost in this disappointing prairie forever.

Letters are like lawnmowers. I can’t revisit most of the nice, supportive texts I’ve gotten over the years (unless it was in the past 24 hours), but every few years, when I’m cleaning out my boxes of junk, I can laugh all over again, I can love all over again, I can live all over again. So, thank you to anyone who has ever written me a letter. You may not be making history (yet), but you made my day and you’re sure to make it again the next time I do a deep clean.

When I came back inside, I noticed a picture of you and me walking through the woods. You are wearing a big t-shirt and I have a big butt. This picture is one of my favorites and reminds me of how important you are to me and how proud I am of you. I know you are on your own journey and at times it is difficult and lonely. I believe there is a reason or a lesson to be learned from the paths we choose to take…Remember KVs [Kurt Vonnegut’s] son told him: “We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”

– LJMG to JHG, 2oo8


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