I haven't written about writing letters in quite some time, but that doesn't mean I haven't been writing letters. While it's true that I don't correspond as frequently with others as I was doing a couple years back when I wrote a letter every single day for a year, I still have a collection of friends with whom my correspondence is solely through handwritten letters, back and forth, pen to paper, red flag to red flag. I have other friends whose birthdays need noticing, whose thoughtfulness needs thanking, whose hardships need acknowledging, or whose hearts need encouraging with a dose of Anne Lamott quotes in a note.
I keep a record for reason of remembering: Which notecard did I send to that person last time? What was that memory I shared? When did I last write, and what was the occasion? Keeping a record keeps it more real for me.
It is one of my greatest pleasures in life when I take the time to sit down and write a note to a friend in response to a note I've been written. It is like adding a link to an unbroken chain, and certain friendships comes to be measured not in years but in letters written.
Ever since Story attended K-4 at First Baptist a couple years ago, I have kept in touch with her wonderful teacher Mrs. Yarbrough. She is a wise old woman who was magical with those children. Her year teaching Story was her final year of teaching, and how incredibly thankful I am that I got to bear witness to the miracle of Mrs. Yarbrough imprinting a love and acceptance into the hearts of Story and her friends in "Friends' World" that year. It wasn't very long before I took to writing letters to Mrs. Yarbrough, and she took to replying to each one. What started as gratitude for her year teaching Story has become a friendship accompanied by consistent correspondence that is very dear to both of us.
Each time I receive a letter from Barbara, there seems to be something gifted to me. Whether mention of a book or a poem, or a prayer card included in the letter, the small contents of a single notecard are hefty with meaning. Though many years and life experiences separate us, Barbara and I have discovered that we have much in common, and just like that, our communication feels like a giving and receiving for the need of the hour.
For example, In Barbara's last letter to me, she told about a poem by Denise Levertov that she said has been a guide to her. I had not previously heard of "The Avowal," but after searching for it online, I knew right away that it would be our family's next poem to memorize together.
This past Sunday afternoon, I sat in a sunny spot outside to write a reply to Barbara. I thanked her for the poem and for mention of a book on the Enneagram that she read. She is the fourth person to mention the Enneagram to me in recent months, which must be a sign that it's time to find out which number I am. In response to this idea of classifications into groups, I shared in my letter to Barbara about The Four Tendencies, Gretchen Rubin's latest book on Upholders, Obligers, Questioners, and Rebels. I also wrote about my experience with Lent this year and about Story taking ballet. I love that letters are lenient in their need for topics to be related.
I also included in the letter to Barbara a picture of a poem that Story copied down and another picture of Story in her ballet costume. Although most notes I send are just gifts of words written on a page, it thrills me when I can include something extra in the letter, like a picture or a poem or a quote or two.
To write a letter to one person doesn't mean much of anything to everybody else, and it doesn't need to. John Donne said, Sirs, more than kisses, letters mingle souls. My experience has been that my heart expands, my soul revives, and my mind settles for a few brief moments as I read words written just for me or write words just for you.
A friendship can be built on a number of things, but when built out of words, over time, through letters, there is a certain quality to the friendship that weathers time and distance well. When Barbara and I began writing letters to each other two years ago, I did not realize that she would go from being Story's teacher to my teacher and friend, or that I would have another reason to be thankful that some days, when I look for a lovely thing, I find it in my mailbox.