A technophile lawyer rediscovers the joys of pen and paper

Monday, March 10, 2014

I don't care how long it's been . . . write that letter!

February was International Correspondence Writing Month (incowrimo.org), the idea being to post a letter or postcard every day of the month. Many use the opportunity to write to people they don't know (but have signed up on the website to receive letters) in the hope of gaining a new pen pal.

I didn't make it every day, but I think I sent out about 20 letters. I chose to use some of my letters to contact people I had not seen, or even been in contact with, for a long, long time.These proved especially rewarding.

One of my letters was to a Naval Academy classmate of mine, a fellow electrical engineering major, whom I had not seen since we graduated more than 30 years ago. I wrote him because I discovered (I don't remember how) that he is a physics professor at a very prestigious college, and I knew he always wanted to be a professor. So, I thought I'd send him a note about how pleased I was for him. I also reminisced a little about struggling with engineering at USNA, told him I was a lawyer, where I lived, etc.

Another of my letters was to a friend from my Marine Corps days. He and I were lieutenants in the same company of an infantry battalion for a couple of years in the early 80s at Camp Pendleton, California, and a six-month overseas "pump" to Okinawa (from where we deployed to exercises all over the Pacific).  We were close enough that a few years later, he traveled 500 miles to attend my wedding — which was the last time I had any contact with him, nearly 27 years ago. I could't find any definitive current information for him, so I wrote to the address I had for him in Massachusetts from all those years ago. I wrote about some memorable moments of our service together, my family situation, my career, etc. and gave him and his family my best wishes.

I assured both of them that there was no pressure on them to write back. I really had no idea what either of them would think to hear from me after so long. Would they think I was an oddball for thinking that I could just barge into their lives in a personal way after such a long time?


My friend the professor wrote a very nice letter back quite promptly, thanking me for writing. He told me a little about what it's like to be a physics professor (I can't even imagine — reading a description of his research on his faculty page is almost like reading a foreign language, but then this guy got his Ph.D. at Caltech — sometimes referred to as "the MIT of the West.") He also told me how much he and his family enjoy living where they do, and I learned that each of us has a 12-year old only child daughter. Quite the coincidence! He also had some very nice things to say about our time at Navy. I was grinning all evening after reading the letter. I might even get a chance to meet up with him sometime, as he and his wife sometimes travel to the California coast.

Even more astonishing was the response I got from my Marine buddy. Within about two weeks of my letter, I got an email from him telling me how glad he was to hear from me, telling me that he and his wife were flying out to California that evening for a week (they travel this way regularly), and asking if we could get together while he was out here. I was blown away! We met and talked most of Sunday afternoon. He was able to fill me in on some of our common friends and acquaintances. We talked about old times and times since, good times and hard times, our families and values, and life lessons learned. It was a very meaningful and wonderful afternoon.

Two great experiences. From two simple letters.

Is there someone out there you've been meaning to contact, but just never got around to it? Maybe you're embarrassed about not writing earlier, so you're afraid to write now.

Don't be. Write them. Write them right now.