Monday, June 13, 2011

The handwriting on the envelope

We received three high school graduation invitations this year. All of them were from young men. Three different high schools. Three different cities. These three boys don’t know each other. In all three cases, it’s their parents that are our connections with them, but they are all associated with us in different ways.

I noticed something about all three of the invitations as soon as I pulled them out of the mailbox: the handwritten address on the envelope. It’s just so rare to get a piece of mail that has been addressed by hand any more. Technology has made fancy schmancy labeling and printing more accessible to us all and we tend to view it as a time-saving technique as well as good excuse to use a curly script font that mocks actual cursive writing. Email and social networks have also eliminated our need for handwritten invitations, or letters, or any other correspondence for that matter.

I know that high school graduation invitations are not really sent with the intention of having the recipient actually show up at the ceremony. I realize that those programs are usually in gyms or auditoriums that have limited space. All the parents, siblings, grandparents, and step relatives usually take up all the allotted number of tickets per student.

And that’s OK. We love you and are very proud of you and we will be happy to go if you really want us there, but we don’t necessarily have to personally see you and 400 of your closest friends walk one by one across the stage.

Truthfully, unless there is a really awesome, well known speaker giving the commencement address, the ceremony itself it lost on those of us who are not directly involved. If we do go, we sit there remembering our own high school graduations and then we start thinking about the course our lives have taken since then and that leads us to thinking about all the things we need to be sure and tell you before you pack your car for college but, since you’re not our child, it's not really our place to tell you. Then we get overwhelmed by it all and need medication to get over it, so perhaps it’s better if we just stay home anyway.

I also get that a graduation invitation means a gift is in order. I’m totally OK with that. In fact, I kind of like getting a reminder about things like that. As long as the invitation stays on my kitchen counter or tacked to the refrigerator, I know I still need to respond. Without it, I’m likely to forget to acknowledge it at all.

Still, I love to get the invitations. It makes me feel special. It reminds me that we belong in a group of people that wants us to share their joys. I love that.

I especially love it when the invitations have been addressed by hand. That extra effort means something to me. I appreciate the person with the pen in hand actually sharing something of themselves that is so personal: handwriting. Handwriting is very individual and telling enough that the whole science of handwriting analysis was developed. While it may not be an exact science, I do think there’s something to it.

For instance, I knew immediately that two of the graduation invitations we received had been addressed not by the young men, but by their mothers. I could just tell by the handwriting. It was like that old Sesame Street song… “one of these things is not like the other....” Moms 2, Sons 1. Or in my mind, SON WON.

I don’t really know why, but the one that the young man wrote himself made a definite impact on me unlike the other two. I felt like it wasn’t just a proud mom saying look what my son has accomplished (which, of course, there’s nothing wrong with). It was a young man himself saying, “this is important not just to my parents, but to me, and I want to share it with you.” Or maybe he was saying something like, "I have no idea why you care, but am glad you do."

Of course, I don’t know how much his mother had to prompt him to address those envelopes, but nonetheless, his extra effort spoke to me. It was just a personal touch that made me feel like he was actually thinking of us when he wrote our names. At a time when he had every right to be thinking he should be the center of attention, he actually took the time to think about us. A rare thing in today's world.

That was sometime in the last month. I hung onto all three of the invitations for a few days before I responded. I don’t see any of these boys on a regular basis. I bought cards for each of them (spending a good deal of time trying to find just the right card for each individual), added some money, and sent them off.

Last week I got another envelope in the mail. The address was handwritten in familiar penmanship. I opened it to find a thank you note. It’s the only one I’ve received so far (thank you notes are rare these days too, but that's another story). As I already knew, the handwritten message inside was from the same young man that addressed his own invitations. He thanked us for the money, but more than that he mentioned how great his God was. I felt like he was really thanking God for everything that was happening in his life and he was letting me be privy to this personal praise to God.

A handwritten thank you note from a young man I hardly know reminded me that every good and perfect gift comes from above. And for me, this kid and his handwriting is one of those good and perfect gifts to this world.

This kid with his mother’s smile, his father’s stature, and God’s heart gave me hope for the Class of 2011. And for the rest of us.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17