I Wonder What Ever Happened To…

#52essays2017 – Essay #02– January 14, 2017

I’m old enough to remember a time when people wrote letters – on paper or in cards – and put them in an envelope to mail via Post Office to the fortunate recipient. Does anyone still do that (I wonder rhetorically)? I must have been one of those people long ago. The reason I know that is because of those boxes. I’ve had a big desk, with a nice big drawer. Every time I finish reading a recently received letter or card with note from a friend or family member, I’d cherish it by putting it in that drawer. And when the drawer got full, I’d pull out all the letters and put them in a box, sometimes sorted, mostly not. In recent years, it seems to take longer for that drawer to fill. In any event, I now have a collection of those boxes.

In my recent attempt to gather and organize the many accumulated treasures I have squirreled away around our home, I decided it was time to get into and organize those boxes. Perhaps I could discard much of it. I know that’s not likely – but I could try.

The first box I open appears to be the oldest collection. At some point, I must have tried to organize by bundling letters together by the writers. There are so many letters and cards and notes, that I can’t bring myself to read them just yet. I spend hours just organizing by person and by chronology. But I can’t resist the urge to peruse some of them and I find myself caught up in reading about activities I barely remember. I do remember the writers, though, often with deep fondness, and sometimes wondering, “Whatever happened to…”

I remember that letter writing usually started when I either graduated from a school or moved out of state or the other person moved. It was generally some geographical distance that initiated the letter writing exchanges. Those were the days when stamps were much cheaper than long distance phone calls. And those were the days when there was no such thing as a personal computer, never mind email, social media, or texting. Most of the letters are handwritten, except for the few individuals who owned or used a typewriter.

In most cases, I can remember why the letters started, but I’m not so clear about why they stopped! Did I stop writing so I never got a response? Did the geographical distance develop into an intimacy distance? Did we all just move along with the many changes and demands of our day-to-day? In some instances, I know I changed in ways that made it hard for me to reconnect with letters, needing and longing for the face-to-face to reconnect. Or maybe I really did want to separate, and the stopping to write letters was a way to move away from certain individuals. I also found pictures and letters from people that I just can’t place at all – how did I know that person and why? And with other dear friends, I have reconnected in ways that letters are no longer needed. I also know that some of those physical letters have transformed over time to emails and then to Facebook. These methods are not nearly as heartwarming as a handwritten letter. And I miss the element of surprise when the mail carrier would bring an unexpected treasure of a lengthy letter from a dear friend.

As I go through the boxes, I realize something even more profound – nostalgia. I’ve never been able to successfully keep a journal and it’s not likely I would read them if I did – too much angst! However, I can retrace some of my steps through the yearly calendars marked with important dates – yes, I do have all those too! But the letters, I realize, also act as a form of journal as well. They offer reflection and reminiscence – and often times affection even in turmoil. They remind me of things I (we) did. They allow me to re-touch conversations and opinions, some I still embrace, others not so much. They elicit wistfulness and gentleness (or sometimes even disruption). They make visible the map of the journey through maturity and adventures taken through to get to my older self. The chronology of those letters takes me from city to city, profession to profession, relationship to relationship, and viewpoints to viewpoints. Some of them rekindle sadness but mostly they make me smile, even laugh, as my memories are awakened. They underline my emotional and spiritual growth in reflection, self-awareness, and confidence.

And, in some cases, I wonder whatever DID happen to this or that friend from long ago. For many years I have wondered. Most days I feel like – “I lost them long ago, why should I find them now?” or “There was a reason we didn’t stay in touch, so why bother and how is that disconnect different now?” But there are some people I have always felt some sadness at having lost touch with them and I truly would like to write/talk with them again. And now, with Google or Facebook or LinkedIn, sometimes I can find them and sometimes, sadly, I cannot. Do I dare try to contact and reconnect with those friends from long ago? Is it best to let those days be what they were? But I’m curious. What have they been doing in all those interim 10, 20, 30, 40 years?

Now that I’ve managed some organization of all those letters, I can’t wait to re-read them and to reacquaint myself with my younger self. I think I will like her, but I remember her as insecure and filled with self-doubt and self-hate, even in her boldness and indignations. As I see her reflected through the letters of friends and family long ago, will I be able to meet her with compassion and to know that the younger Mev is the one who got me to where I am today.

In this modern age of texts and emails and tweets and other forms of electronic messaging, we communicate in all kinds of ways – but there’s no longer a so-called paper trail. I miss that. Maybe I’ll take up letter writing again. Maybe. I’d like to fill up more of those boxes.

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