As you know my wife and I met as pen pals. We wrote back and forth in the days of snail mail when I would write a letter in my town, drive 10 miles to a special mail courier, pay $8.00 for them to bring on a plane to Guatemala and hand deliver it to my future wife. The whole process took about 10 days from when I wrote the letter until she got the letter. So from my letter to receiving her response took about three weeks. It is amazing that today it could take only as long as it takes to write. I know emails I write and send to the US get there in a matter of 2 – 3 seconds nowadays.
Letter writing was not very easy for me back then. First of all, I had to think about it English, then translate it into Spanish. Sure I spoke and understood Spanish. But writing to a fine young lady is another thing. I slaved over my translations. Once I had written that I wanted to meet a nice happy fun-loving girl. Well, that is what I wrote in English. Somehow in Spanish I had written that I wanted to meet a fun and hot girl. Not exactly the message I wanted to send. I am sure there were some giggles in Guatemala when they read that line.
One of the defenses I have often used for the defense of letter writing as a means to get to know someone goes something like this. When two people go on their first dinner date they make small talk. The guy will share that he really enjoys football. The girl may make a cold face or a grimace. The guy then backs off what he says, to soften the blow. “Well, not that much. I mean I liked football.” The first dates are like a fencing match. Each has their points to make, they dodge truths, avoid criticism and play a game of trying to be the person that the other is interested in. It is a big game of marketing – done really fast, done verbally.
While letter writing is a sort of permanent record. A record of who the person is and what they like and don’t like. When I would get a letter from my pen pal, I would reread it every day, sometimes three or four times a day. I would study over every word, remembering them, savoring them, contemplating them and their author.
Often I would show the letters I received with some dear friends. I would read them to them and they would get caught up in the emotion. We would discuss who the author was. We analyzed the wording, the context, the topics. We began to build an image of who the writer was. With letter writing I think the truth comes out quicker and sharper. You lay it out there, you can’t take it back. The risk of rejection is lower, because you can’t see their immediate response. No games can be played.
20 years ago this week I sent my last letter to my pen pal and future wife. She would be here in 10 short days and it was time to lay all the cards out on the table. I have read enough and I was ready for the next step. In my last letter to my future wife before she came to visit I wrote the following sentence:
“If you are the person that I think you are, through these letters, I already know what I am going to ask you when you get here.”
Can you imagine getting that letter from some guy who lives in another country 2000 miles away? A guy from another culture. A guy you have never met or never even having talked to on the phone. Would you even get on the plane? We had only been writing for barely six months at that point. Maybe we had sent each other 10 letters each, at the most.
She received the letter on June 26th as she was walking out the door to get on a plane to come see me.
Next time: The first day of the rest of your life – June 26