Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Lesson of a Letter

My 2 sisters and I have been apart all summer. Law school has claimed my older sister for these 3 months, and my younger sister Madelena’s adventurous spirit took her to Chop Point summer camp in Maine. She went last year as well and after having the best summer of her life camping, hiking, canoeing and eating lobster, she decided to go back for 2 sessions this year - 6 weeks.
At camp they are not permitted to have cell phones, so my 13-year-old sister and I have been pen pals for the summer. It seems so strange to be writing actual hand written letters in an age where the longest thing I usual write would probably be this blog and the only thing I actually hand write is my grocery list. I have to admit though that I love getting her letters written on beautiful purple stationary, and I know she anticipates every one of my pink and cream envelopes as well.
It is such a lost art – writing a letter. Somehow when you have to actually sit and think about what you want to say to a person and choose the words they are going to read in a few days, it forces you to reflect and ponder in a way that nothing else does. When you know you can be in constant communication with someone through texts, phone call and Facebook posts…you are never forced to think about the value or meaning of your words.
My senior year of high school I was dating someone who then went to the naval academy for college when I started school at the University of Miami, meaning he was 800 miles away in Annapolis. The summer before school started he went away to Plebe Summer and the only way we could correspond was through letters. Although I missed hearing his voice more than anything, I have to say it was one of the best times in our relationship. When each of us had to sit down every day and think carefully about what we wanted to say to each other, how we really felt, and evaluate all this before writing anything – it turned our relationship into a strong bond based on love, encouragement, understanding and trust. In writing a letter you realize you only have one chance to say exactly what you want to say, and as a result you will put a hundred times more thought into each word, phrase and line.
After school started in the fall and we could use all forms of communication again: phone, text, Facebook, aim, and Skype – instead of bringing us closer it really tore us apart. Facebook posts and pictures made it so easy for jealousy to take hold, and texts and chats were so easily misunderstood. Somehow hurtful, rash comments are easily said over the Internet and in texts where you can express every instantaneous feeling, you do not have to face the person and you know you can always explain it away 5 minutes later after whatever you wrote disappears into cyberspace.
So many times during that first semester I missed the days when we wrote letters that came from the heart and represented the feelings we actually had for each other- not the rash reactions to our stressful situation that often erupted. Somehow all the technology in place to make long distance relationships simpler only complicated ours, and eventually it fell apart.
When I sit down to write Madelena a letter I envision her opening it 4 days from now, and it forces me to think – what do I want her to feel and think when she reads this. Encouraged, entertained? Do I want her to laugh, or cry or ponder something? My pen holds all the power, the power of writing.
I love my sister with all my heart but I know at home I do not tell her this nearly as much as I should. When I write her a letter however, I must put all my thoughts, feelings, and meanings onto one page – so I always remember to be appreciative, encouraging and tell her I love her. Writing a letter forces me to share the best of myself and sift through unimportant frustrations and irrelevant arguments to grasp at what really matters in our life and our friendship.
In a way, writing a letter reminds me of that song by Tim McGraw – “Live Like You Are Dying”. You are forced to choose the last words you will say to a person for about a week and therefore those words become infinitely more valuable. Although I love my Facebook, send about 50 texts a day, and have all my friends on speed-dial, I will never forget the power of a simple letter, handwritten on a sheet of cream stationary. I am thankful for those months I spent addressing letters to the Naval Academy, 21st Company, and for the ones I now send every few days to Chop Point Camp, Maine – it has taught me something about life, the importance of our words and the value of searching to identify your true feelings, express them carefully, and always always tell the people you love, “I love you.” 

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