Tangent: On Letter-Writing
For the past year, I’ve been exchanging letters with a prison inmate through the letter-writing ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Church of the Larger Fellowship. Because of the circumstances, this is necessarily a pen-and-paper conversation, and for reasons of privacy, it’s one that takes place via a kind of postal game of telephone, my letters going from me to the Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston to the prison, and with the return letters taking the opposite route. In the end, though, the letters get through, and we are each holding a piece of paper that the other held in their own hands.
In the meantime, I am connected via social media to friends and relatives who live thousands of miles away from me. We share an emotional closeness, a closeness born of shared blood, shared experiences, and shared friendship, but we rarely connect in the real world.
This prison pen-pal and I share conversation, but we don’t share friendship, and yet by virtue of the paper we pass from one pair of hands to another, we have more of a tangible, physical-world connection than I have with some of the people I love most in the world. When it comes to that, I share more physical closeness with the realtor I shook hands with at the last open house I attended or the person I sat next to the last time I rode on a plane than I do with most of the people to whom I feel closest.
This physical connection is a small thing, but it feels significant to me. Through my various screens, I get information about the people who are most important in my life, but I don’t get the tangible, concrete connection I crave. To close this gap, I’m trying to connect with those I love in the same way I connect with a person from whom I am separated by cinderblock and razor wire.
I’m making a list of about a dozen people to whom I want to write a letter, and I’m setting aside time a few mornings a week to put pen to paper, lick an envelope, and drop a note in the mail, instead of refreshing e-mail, Facebook, and Instagram, e-mail, Facebook, and Instagram, and around and around again in the search for something tangible. I’ll send these letters out and see what happens.
I might be following a false trail, but if it works the way I hope it will, maybe I can regain some of that feeling of connection by putting a paper I touched and onto which I put the words I’d like to say in person into the hands of someone I love.
Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.