I'm currently cleaning through things in my closet and have come across boxes heavy with old letters and cards from friends throughout the years. In sorting through, I knew I wanted to keep some representation of everyone who has been significant in my life, but didn't need to keep every single blessed note. (There were a few letters from people I honestly can't remember, and I'm guessing they can't remember me either. After reassuring myself it was life, not Alzheimer's, I tossed them). So I wanted to do the letters the courtesy of a read-through before recycling them. And I was struck by how about 95% of them all began with something like the phrase "I'm sorry it's been so long since I've last written." It didn't matter if what era of my life the letter was posted, the sentiment was universally a feeling of guilt. Which is now how I often feel about not calling dear long-distance friends, and a when I do finally call, I usually begin with "I'm so sorry it's been such a long time since I called."
Anyway, after spending several hours in my closet sorting through memories and mementos, I emerged as if from some kind of marathon therapy session. It's been a long time since I've written a letter to a friend, but I do occasionally send cards, and now feel even more recommitted to doing so. When I found cards from people in my life who have since passed on, they took on much greater meaning than when I first received them. And I loved finding little treasures like my deceased grandfather's phrase "There isn't a klinker in the bunch" in regard to his children and grandchildren. Being reminded of whole parts of my life I'd forgotten about, or friendships that are so changed they are unrecognizable, or of people who greatly influenced my life leaves me worn out, but in a good way. I'm glad I kept boxes of letters for this long and I'm glad I could let some of the letters go.
It's never quite hit home as much how electronic my correspondence has become though until I poured through the boxes. I'm not sure I'd be as inclined to look up the length of an email history with a friend, but I'm grateful that I can. And with the advent of facebook, for all it's faults, I've been able to reconnect with some of my former-letter-writing friends in a way that is very satisfying.
But nothing beats those little homemade cards, or letters with hand-drawn stationary with the simple familiarity of a friend's handwriting. Those had to be kept.