Twenty Six Letters

It was the best use of stamps other than a mail-in ballot. They were for letters to my students, plastered on envelopes headed to Taiwan, Brazil, Portugal, China, Loas, and Malaysia.

Just like box a that a present comes in, the envelopes provided as much joy as what was inside.

Papyrus made the perfect cards, featuring a map of the USA, with just enough space for me to draw my caricature with a big nose (大鼻子). Dà bí zi or big nose is slang for an American.

I drew an arrow to where the quaint village of Grand Rapids, Michigan is found.

Each student got a personal letter except for Adhwa. His envelope accidentally contained the letter for Jo-Jo. It made Adhwa laugh anyway.

Why did I mail these letters? Was it to get an eyeroll from everyone in line at the post office?

No.

There is power in letter writing, especially from teachers, even years after one has cleaned out their desk.

In 1999, something possessed me to write my fifth grade teacher from Watervliet, Michigan. Her name was Mrs. Rogers, an icon at the North Elementary School. She had a collection of salt and pepper shakers from around the world in her classroom. She wore a flowery dress every day and had white pin curled hair. She read us, Harriet the Spy. She made each student select a quote to memorize. The one I chose was from Emerson: Hitch Your Wagon to a Star. It still clunks around in my melon when I’m running on flat tires.

I wrote her a well overdue thankyou letter, having no idea if she remembered me or not. I was just of the hundreds of students who beckoned to her waggling finger.

But just like punctuation at the end her every sentence, Mrs. Rogers remembered me.

I’ll never forget when I got her reply. It came to my office address in Chicago, where I was a creative director for an ad agency, not a student sitting next to the pencil sharpener.

Her hand writing made me sit up straight in my Herman Miller chair. It had not changed one bit, even the way she dotted her “i”s.

My fingers trembled as I opened it:

Dear Ginger,

Yes, I remember you…

Every morning, I sift through my email. There are bill reminders, newsletters, updates from the New York Times and always some guy in Nigeria with an investing idea. Every now and then, I will receive a message from someone that reminds me I’ve made a difference.

But I cannot think of one emoji with the impact of a postage stamp or a font as endearing as Leaky Fountain Pen.

Write a letter, the one that only you can write. Someone is waiting to open it.

Nothing hurts more than the friendly letter that one never got around to writing.

Brendon Behan, Irish poet

Who has written a letter that has impacted you?

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