In the wake of my father’s death, I received a number of cards from friends and family members expressing their condolences. I truly appreciated these tangible expressions, which came in a slow stream over the course of several weeks. I could read the cards and display them in my home to remind myself of the sentiments they shared, and I didn’t have to immediately come up with words to reassure the sender that I would be ok. Unlike when I received a call or text message, I didn’t feel the need to say anything.
Receiving these cards led me to think about letter-writing, something I used to do fairly often. When I was in college, before texting had reached its current level of ubiquity but well after emailing had taken hold as a common means of communication, I regularly exchanged letters with long-distance friends. Reading and writing them took time, but that time was enjoyable. Rather than dashing off quick texts in the middle of everyday activities, I would set aside half an hour or so to think about what my friend had written to me, respond thoughtfully, and share what was most important in my life at that moment. I had no real expectations with respect to these letters. Sometimes a friend would respond fairly quickly, and other times I would not hear back for weeks, or longer. I didn’t take the delay personally. I understood that my friends were busy people who were living their lives and would respond when they had the time to do so. Receiving a letter in the mail was always a pleasant surprise that brightened my day; it was never something I expected.