Saturday, July 14, 2012

How to receive a letter

In college, my friend Emily coined the phrase "postal elation" to describe the experience of receiving "real mail" in our campus boxes. Real mail had to be personal: most often it was a parcel, letter, or postcard from friends or family members back home. At first, postal elation was a by-product of novelty, for college was the first time most of us wrote and received real mail consistently. My parents were my first faithful correspondents, but Julianna became a witty pen pal after we served together at the Houston Baptist Mission Centers the summer after my freshman year. The next year, my brother* Lennon began to write me copious letters from bootcamp and, later, from Iraq, while Mr. H courted me through scores of finely-penned epistles. 

I cultivated my habits of letter-writing throughout college and graduate school, and I like to think I do pretty well as an author of mail-worthy words (for some ideas for writing your own letters, you can read this post from last year). Today, three wonderful letters in my still-new mailbox have prompted me to think about how to extend the elation of receiving.  Just as we should learn how to give gifts with joy, we should attend to the art of receiving a gift--even one as slim as a letter--with grace. 

* My reasons for calling Lennon my brother is a story for another day. He's one of my oldest and dearest friends, and during high school he lived with my family for a time. 

My first real mail in Alabama

How to Receive a Letter

- Enjoy your walk to the mailbox. Use checking the mail as a much-needed break from some kind of good work. Take a deep breath. Consider going barefoot.

- Don't open the letter immediately. Enjoy the anticipation of what will be inside. If you have deep pockets, slip the letter inside and let it travel with you through the rest of your day.

- Make sure your house (or at least a corner of it) is clean and ordered before you open the letter. Prepare your house or room as though the author of the letter were actually coming to visit you. Or, if you don't want to clean, take the letter to a special place -- your porch, a tree, a favorite coffee shop -- and read it there.

- Savor the physicality of the letter before you open it. Pay attention to its weight in your hand, stroke the texture of the paper, note the curves and quirks of the handwriting. You might even smell it, especially if it is a billet-doux. 

I use a ledger book I found at a yard sale.

- Record the letter in a correspondence log. Note the date received, author, and location. Look back over this log periodically and enjoy seeing the names and places. (I also log letters that I send in the same way).

- If you are alone, read the letter, or at least part of it, aloud. Imagine the voice of the writer reading it to you.

- Don't rush. Pause, ponder, and consider after each paragraph.

- Read the letter again after a few hours or a few days.

- Be intentional with what you do with the letter after enjoying it. Some people keep all the letters they receive, some people don't. But whether you store it in a box, save it in an album, burn it or recycle it, make sure you have replied thoughtfully and carefully with a letter of your own.

How do you receive letters? 

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