The year of the letter
How I packaged 2013 up into a single box
Under my bed in Balz-Dobie Dormitory is a small shoebox filled to capacity with notes, photographs and nostalgia. It is slightly tattered, somewhat sticky from the Modge Podge I used to cover it with Polaroids, and ebbs with the memories and mementos of the most transitory period of my life so far.
For me, 2013 was the year of letters, the year I gained a deep and abiding appreciation for the postal service and all that it brought me — most of which has been placed in that small shoebox for saving and for (somewhat) safekeeping.
Thousands hands were used and thousands of miles were crossed to bring me what I care most about from 2013. My college acceptances, the most clichéd but forever the most important mail a senior in high school can receive, are tucked into the bottom of the box. As the bottom layer of the shoebox’s contents, they quite literally form the foundation for all succeeding events in my amalgam of memories — fitting, for my college decision was the lens by which I viewed all else that happened to me last year.
After deciding where to attend college, I spent a summer traveling around the South Pacific, writing to the Naval Academy plebe I thought I would be with for a long time — my college choice brought me, strategically, only a short train ride away from Annapolis. I stacked on top of my “Wahoo-wa” admissions packet the letters he sent that still smell vaguely of the Fijian waters on which they were carried to get to me. On top of those nine yellowed and battered envelopes are the photos he sent back when our relationship did not end as happily as we had so hopefully planned.
Beside the photos are the notes my mother sent to a new zip code in the fall, filled with euphemisms and epigrams she deemed too important to text. Lines like, “You can do anything with God!” and “Don’t do anything you don’t want to do!” seeped back into my consciousness when I found myself doing, in all the usual first-year glory, things that perhaps contradicted her pragmatic and always perfect advice.
Scattered in between the letters are postcards from my friends serving Mormon missions in Brazil, the Philippines and everywhere in between, as well as my senior yearbook, a lighthouse trinket I played with as a child while visiting my now-passed grandmother’s house and earrings from my brother in Israel — all things brought to me by the mail service, which I am indebted to in much more than just postage.
As I lost and then found myself again as a more or less mature college kid last semester, I carried with me an appreciation for the people who not only sent me the mementos comprising the shoebox, but for all the hands that passed that love along the way. So this is for all the night-shift workers sorting mail at midnight — thank you. Thank you for bringing me hope, joy and concern in tangible form. I now, and will always, peek into that box as a reminder of where I was in 2013, and I wonder what my collection of the past will look like if I get to live long enough to have quite a few more filled shoeboxes.
Over break I peeked into one such file cabinet at my grandfather’s house in California and glimpsed, in many items, a life well lived. I saw my grandmother’s University of Southern California Economics textbook that my grandfather had drawn doodles in during lecture in the hopes of getting a fraction of her attention — a flirtation which lead to four kids, 22 grandkids and 23 great-grandkids. I saw the woven wallets saved as souvenirs from part of their life in Argentina, excerpts from hymns that had bolstered their faith and spare change from travels so far in the past the currency is no longer minted.
I can only hope the boxes that one day measure my life are equally as vibrant with experience and hint to a past that fulfilled all the potential I now foresee for myself — potential for adventure, happiness and rich relationships. And I thank in advance all the people, known and unknown, seen and unseen, who will help me along my journey or who will help preserve the remnants of a life well lived from mailrooms across the world.
Lauren’s column runs biweekly Fridays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.