A Valentine’s Day Flashback

This is an article about communication — one of my areas of interest. But as opposed to the usual business focus, and being St. Valentine’s Day, it’s personal. So please indulge me.

Thirty years ago, my wife and I began dating.

We met in our freshman year of college: first day, first class (English composition). During that semester, we hardly spoke to each other. (An inauspicious beginning to this story about “communication.”) It wasn’t until the last day of class that I worked up the nerve to ask her out for coffee.

Then, nothing. No more classes together…saw her rarely on campus. At some point, being the traditional people we are, I sent her a letter. After she responded, letter writing became our persona absentis mode of communication. Letters and cards went back and forth, several times a week, for more than a year. Not even a phone call. Not one. And, of course, long before e-mail, Facebook posts, and text messages.

As our world continues to shrink, and as communication becomes faster and less meaningful (“that was so fifteen seconds ago”), I think about her cards and letters that I’ve stored in a box in our home. We employed no emoticons, no acronyms or one-letter words that conveyed our thoughts or feelings. Hardly conceivable in an age when most communication is immediate (news of Whitney Houston’s death went viral before EMT arrived) but hardly worth saving.

Some people say this was “so romantic.” But, if memory serves, it was more about the expedience and the art of dialogue. We had so much to say: births of nieces and nephews, how we spent the holidays, reactions to world news. And always so entertaining. She made me laugh and I her.

Thought I was kidding? There are some 120 letters and cards here.

I remember realizing, at one point, how gifted this woman was in the English language. Great grammar, appropriate use of words with which I was unfamiliar. She set a high bar, and I attempted to match her. I adored her ability to write so well, along with her perfect penmanship. (Her father loved to draw and paint and ensured all the kids held a pen correctly, with just the right amount of angle and pressure.)

In a way, it reminds me of the letters my dad wrote from Europe to my mother during the second World War. So classy, so poignant — like the letters of so many soldiers from various wars, some now published as books. A lost art, this letter writing thing. And one humanity may some day come to miss.

And so, it’s at this time of year when I remember summoning the nerve to ask (via letter, of course) Rebecca to meet me at the college where we met so many months earlier. I didn’t know if she’d show up; rumors were she was engaged to another guy, but she did appear. We spent a wonderful day and, in fact, the next five years together before getting married. (The 25th anniversary of that event happens later this spring, in May.)

In a large way, I think our letter writing forged a relationship that helped cast another relationship (dating) that became the foundation of a third relationship (marriage). It wasn’t the most expeditious approach, but it has seemed to work.

We continue to make each other laugh, learn lots of things about the world, and even discover new things about each other. We also e-mail each other or, just to be funny, instant message each other, while we’re on our computers — less than 10 feet apart.

As for our children — yes, they text and e-mail their friends. But they ensure their messages are spelled correctly, with proper grammar, punctuation, et cetera. Or, at least the ones they send to Rebecca and me.

And so, on this Valentine’s Day — when some people may even resort to sending their loved ones a card or letter — I think about the days when humans expended quality time developing their thoughts and expressing them longhand. And perhaps even decorating the envelope.

To Rebecca, I can only say one thing: U R the 1   4 me. ;-)