A hand-addressed envelope from a long-time friend showed up in our mailbox Saturday. Dianne had been my supervisor when I interned at Washington Consumers’ Checkbook magazine as a hayseed college junior. She was also kind of a cruise director for me and another intern, making sure we got something out of the work experience and also from living in the Capital of the United States.
Dianne was there again when, after I graduated, I moved for real to D.C. to take a job at Checkbook. That was a tough time for me— I was homesick, felt lost and found myself literally lost virtually every day. The work required a lot of driving, and though D.C. proper was designed in logical fashion by Pierre L’Enfant, suburban Virginia and Maryland never got a whiff of the grid system.
Dianne was a steady force, helping me grow into my professional role, and to stick it out on the personal side. And she introduced me to her friends who became my friends—and are to this day.
Eventually, she was tagged to establish Checkbook’s second magazine, this one in the Bay Area. When she moved, I wrote her a letter expressing my appreciation for all that she’d done for me, and my general admiration.
When I opened the envelope from Dianne, that letter was inside with a sweet note from Dianne saying, “Obviously it meant a lot to me given that I’ve kept it 35 years.”
Just seeing the letter was powerful. The yellow legal paper (I couldn’t be bothered with stationery). My handwriting actually being legible (it no longer is). It transported me to my early 20s, and all of that period rushed back.
I was almost afraid to read the letter, but mercifully, it was pretty well written. And it sincerely reflected my abiding gratitude for all she’d done for me.
I still write emails like the one I wrote to Dianne way back then. But I wondered if these kinds of pen-and-paper experiences will be entirely lost to the digital age.
Then this morning, I received a text message from my nephew Aaron. He was going through some belongings and happened onto a photograph of my father with his brother, my Uncle George, at a brothers reunion during WWII. That photo was attached. The twinkle in my father’s eye just kind of dropped me in my tracks. And handsome George’s unmistakable jaw line. And their uniforms.
Beyond those memories, it was Aaron, very much in the present day, letting me know he was thinking about me.
So maybe it’s really not about the medium—legal paper and postage stamps and ink vs. pixels and jpgs and cable modems.
Maybe it’s what it has always been: However you accomplish it, never underestimate the power of making clear to people in no uncertain terms what they mean to you.