We live in a post-postal age.
Digital messages have largely replaced written communication. But digital messaging allows communication without contact. It is easy and fast, and for the most part dependable. So why do I still write letters?
The qualities of a good letter are also the qualities of a good relationship. Letters are the tangible manifestation of the singularity of our kinship, the importance of our shared experiences, and the care and effort that is taken in our conversations. Letters are the physical tokens of kindness we show each other and are the proof of my allegiance and our alliance. Letters are abiding and durable. Letters are markers of our love.
Sullivan Ballou of the Union Army wrote to his wife during the early months of the Civil War, promising her that “my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but omnipotence can break. … If I do not return, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I loved you.” He then offered his hope that “the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they love, [for then] I shall always be with you, in the brightest day and in the darkest night … always, always. And when the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath, or the cool air your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.”
One week later Ballou died in the first Battle of Bull Run. But his promise had been made, and letter sent.
Mike Royko and Carol Duckman grew up together, living close by each other on Chicago’s North Side. By age 10 Mike was in love with Carol, but Carol had other fish to fry. Mike enlisted in the Air Force in 1952, heading off to Korea at age 19; Carol became engaged to a man from the neighborhood.
Then one day Mike got a letter from Carol. She told him she had separated from her husband; the marriage had been “a mistake.” Mike wrote back in double time, admitting his long-held feelings for her: “I’m in love with you … For a couple of years I wondered when I would stop thinking about you every day. I’ve come to the conclusion that I won’t. So as long as I have to keep going this way you may as well know about it.”