Recent news that the U.S. Postal Service is in deep financial trouble does not come as any surprise because recent news is as old as I am, it’s only updated in brief items in daily newspapers.
And every time I read one of those brief stories, I am saddened.
I like the mail, which is code for the U.S. Postal Service, and not for UPS or FedEx, the Internet or other delivery services. I’ve always liked the mail, and I’ve always liked letter carriers because of the human touch. I like post offices, even if the lines are long, because they are proof that people need the service.
I even collected stamps when I was a child, and I still have my collection. My dad collected stamps when he was a kid, and I marveled at his hardcover collection of stamps from decades before my birth.
My older brother collected stamps, too, but his was a collection of stamps from around the world. He did not collect U.S. stamps because they were, well, ugly. Stamps from Europe, Africa, the Pacific islands and Oceania were beautiful and colorful and came from wonderful places that I could only dream of.
But I was sticking to the United States because the postal service had started issuing colorful and artistic commemorative stamps that highlighted famous Americans, national treasures and accomplishments, sports, arts, holidays, music, you name it.
Commemorative stamps make a statement. They decorate your envelope. They are a teaching tool. I don’t want the common stamp of the flag or the Statue of Liberty on my envelopes, nor do I want horrid black-and-white, computer-generated postal marks befouling my envelopes.
I was going to support my country and learn more about it. And I was going to be more like Dad than Dave, under whose shadow I lived, and I didn’t necessarily like that. And I certainly was not going to do exactly what he was doing, although I found myself trying to do pretty much what he was doing. If he was going to collect stamps from around the world, I was not going to do the same.
But more important than the stamp collection was the envelope and what was inside the envelope – a letter.
And that’s what saddens me most about the ongoing recent news that the U.S. Postal Service is in financial trouble. The postal service delivers, among other things, letters. I like to write letters, and they can go on and on. I like to receive letters. I like to touch them, and I like to reread them.
When I was in grade school, almost every year we were given the assignment to write a letter to a pen pal – someone who lived in a foreign country. Each of us was given a name and address, and we were given the task of writing a letter of introduction, then we would seal them in envelopes, place stamps on them, and the teacher would mail them.
Then we would wait for a reply. And wait. And wait. And get on with our lives. Unrequited friendship with pen pals was an annual disappointment.
I have written letters my whole life, and I save the replies and the random letters that were written to me without my having initiated it. We wrote letters because we certainly were not allowed to make long-distance telephone calls. Oh, the expense. Long-distance telephone calls were reserved for notification of deaths in the family. Otherwise, you wrote a letter or sent a card.
The world has changed. We can call anyone in the world, using small phones that we carry in our pockets. Or we send email, which arrives moments after it is sent. Or we send text messages with our pocket phones if we don’t have time for a conversation.
Everything is immediate. And over. And done with.
But none of it can replace the letter that is handwritten or typed that is delivered by a human being – a letter carrier – with a satchel over his or her shoulder, walking the same route every day, all day, wind or sleet or snow or the dark of Central Standard Time as winter bears down on it.
I cherish those letters, which are infrequent because there are so many other ways to communicate with people with technologies that once existed only in science-fiction books. The technologies are putting the U.S. Postal Service in a vice.
What I recommend is that we all go to the post office, select some beautiful commemorative stamps, find a pen and paper, and surprise someone with a letter that is hand-carried by another human being hundreds or thousands of miles away from you. I can almost guarantee that the recipient will enjoy that day’s mail more than any other day, although I cannot be held accountable for the tone of your letter.
If enough of us write letters regularly, maybe we can save the postal service.
• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.