With a smile, I recall the first time I ever used your form to speak with a fellow human being. How painstakingly I drew each alphabet character in that number 2 pencil and twice left a smudge on the blue-lined paper as I erased a misspelled word. How proud I was to show my mother the results of my labor, then teared up when she found more words I couldn't spell. How she smiled as she pulled a new slip of paper from a notebook and had me write you anew. Tongue pressed between my lips, I tried again. The letters were wobbly, but they were legible. How handsome you appeared to my child eyes!
I remember oh-so-carefully folding you in thirds, smoothing each crease with tiny fingers. Taking up the envelope addressed in my scrawling hand, I slipped you into its snug embrace and sealed you with a wet tongue. Next I licked the stamp. Oh, the stamp! How proud I was to press it to that envelope in the right-hand corner. I sat back, fingering you, eager to send you on your way. My next task was the short trek to the mailbox. I set you inside and closed the hinged door, delighted to be finished. Halfway back to the house I realized I had forgotten to raise the red flag, hailing the carrier to whisk you off to my human friend. I trotted back to the mailbox and raised that flag up high!
You carried a special message, a question, dearer than almost anything to my little beating heart: 'Dear friend, will you be my pen pal?'
Even now, many years later, I think of our first meeting with fondness. As I sit in my office and fold a hundred papers, stuffing statements into envelopes to be sent away, asking for payment, I feel your absence and appreciate your genius. I really ought to use you more.
I don't know who thought to pen the first letter. I don't know who first delivered it to an addressee, but that doesn't matter. You, brave letter, have taken many forms, been sealed or sent many ways, and your legacy is timeless. How many words of love have you whispered to dreamers through every age? How many tears have been poured upon you like spring rain? How many times have you been torn to shreds in a tantrum of emotion and pieced back together with bits of tape?
You carry the human heart, dear letter, and you do it so faithfully. Never a sound of complaint, not even when you're locked into a dark space with the bold words stamped to your protective envelope: LOST LETTER.
I guess this is a love letter to you, for your endless years of service, for your long journeys through war and peace, rain or sunshine. For each smile you bring to a child's face. For the millions of Christmas wishes you carry to a magical snow-capped realm year after year. For the hope you deliver to soldiers serving far from home and the reply you take to their worried families. For the good and bad tidings you send throughout the world, tying a string of commonality to everyone you touch.
Thank you, dearest letter, from the bottom of my heart.
A Human Being