OR: A DEFENSE OF VALENTINE’S DAY AND THE POSTAL SERVICE
“And none will hear the postman’s knock/ Without a quickening of the heart./For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?” —W.H. Auden
(It’s been much too long since I have written anything and there has been so much that I have thought about since July. But internet was spotty and time was wasted and the longer I wait to write, the more daunting it becomes. So I’m diving back in because I feel and think better when I write. I write better when I write.)
I used to consider myself a romantic. I was a sucker for any film starring Drew Barrymore or Freddy Prinze Jr. I gushed over boy band lyrics and was convinced that Prince Charming was just waiting to make his move. Now I fear that I am a garden-variety cynic. Love stories are too neat and cliché. Declarations of love are too optimistic and blind. And I hate Valentine’s Day. It’s a day to remind me that love remains elusive, romance a stranger, and affection distant. That being said, deep inside, a small flicker of the optimist remains and fights to reclaim her territory.
I am a fan of the ease technology lends to communication. Living far from my family and old friends, it’s nice and convenient to go online and send a message, to email when I have the time, to text when I can’t talk. However, I embrace these only because the world has moved so fast that it leaves me no choice. I highly prefer a phone conversation to the 160-character limit of a text message. I like the nuances of voice much more than an emoticon. I’d rather have lunch than repeatedly message that we should. I will never, ever, EVER embrace the electronic reader. I find photo prints far superior to clicking through a flickr file. Going to college gave me a new appreciation for mail. To get a care package or letter from home rivaled any e-Card forwarded to me.
Loving the physicality of mail, the weight of a card, the feel of tearing into an envelope lingered after graduation. I have continued to try hard to get cards in the mail for holidays, send home a little reminder that my family and friends are on my mind. I spend time searching for the right card for each person, choosing humor or sincerity, addressing and decorating each envelope. I love getting mail, but I have come to love sending it just as much. Just before Valentine’s day I was waiting in line at the Post Office to buy stamps. Losing precious minutes on my day off, I stood in line for what everyone knows is far too long. As I neared the front of the line, I saw an older woman leaning over the counter addressing an envelope. She then turned it over and with a red marker, drew a large red heart over the sealed tab and colored it in. This is why I love mail. I almost cried, overcome with emotion watching her. I was filled with love for her, for whomever that letter was meant for, for my family and friends I was mailing.
Mail is time. It is money. It is effort. I have to pick out a card, or at least find paper. I have to put my hand to the paper, write out my own thoughts, articulate my own feelings. I leave a piece of me on the paper, my handwriting, my words. I put the writing in an envelope. I lick it, tasting the glue and feeling the rough paper on my tongue. I line up an address label and stamp. Mail is intentional: one card to one person. No Cc or BCc. No mass forwarding. No Tweeting to the masses. I then spend time putting stickers and colors all over the envelopes, making my letters special. I want my people, my loves, to stand out and be unique. I can be impatient, but I also appreciate that mail is not instant– it goes on a journey, taking time to arrive. Mail is anticipated, delivered, discovered. Junk mail is annoying and wasteful, but it’s worth wading through for the good stuff.
This incident at the Post Office reassured me that perhaps the hopeless romantic I bragged about being in Junior High isn’t gone. She’s wounded and scared, but she’s in there. Like Bukowski’s blue bird, my optimist survives quietly. If she weren’t, I wouldn’t send Valentines. If she weren’t, that woman and her heart-sealed letter would not have been on my mind for more than a month. I wouldn’t be bitter and resent romantic holidays if I didn’t believe in romance, feel that I am missing something. I go out of my way to show my love, even if it is a small gesture. Watching that little old woman with her red marker, it was clear to me how much I value the written word, communication, and love. True love, strong and simple, is not grand gestures and big romances. It is small devotions, simple reminders, and hand-drawn Valentines. You can see it, touch it, read it, and send it– it is very, very real.
“Christian, you may see me only as a drunken, vice-ridden gnome whose friends are just pimps and girls from the brothels. But I know about art and love, if only because I long for it with every fiber of my being.” –Toulouse-Lautrec, Moulin Rouge!