In February, my mailbox delighted me with a welcome “mishap.” Mixed in with the bills and junk mail was a letter addressed to me in elegant cursive. It looked surprisingly like my father’s hand, stylish and disciplined in the manner taught to prewar, British boarding school pupils as a necessary skill for gentlemen. The postage stamps on the envelope were from India, where he lived. But the letter couldn’t be from him; my dad had died many years ago.
The envelope, tattered at the edges, was encased in a plastic sleeve bearing a message from “Your Postmaster” telling me that the U.S. Postal Service handles 177 billion pieces of mail each year and that “an occasional mishap will occur.” The letter within, dated Oct. 10, 2001, was handwritten on my father’s personal stationery.
With an obvious reference to Sept. 11, 2001, my father wrote:
“We are of course deeply concerned at what is going on in the world. We can only pray that sense all round will prevail to avoid a global catastrophe. . . . Love to the kids & to you both. We pray for you and indeed for the whole world which seems to have gone mad.”
To the U.S. Postal Service, I simply want to say thank you for delivering this letter to me. Fourteen years is a long time to wait for a letter, but rarely has one been more welcome. The expression of concern in the letter is sadly still relevant today. But the physical letter itself was a real joy. Like a good book, a personal handwritten letter begs to be saved, waiting patiently to be browsed again as if being read for the first time, each time.
A tide of memories came flooding back. As a foreign student studying at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the early 1980s, I waited for the letters from my father that arrived each month with news from home. Email was still a thing of the future.
The letters from my father were a commentary of life and views from the other side of the world.
My son was barely 10 when I watched the second plane crash into the Twin Towers from my office in lower Manhattan, one month before my father sent the prayers and loving words that would reach me 14 years later. An orange ball of flames exploded from the south tower on a crisp blue fall morning, and it did seem like the whole world had gone mad. But if my father could write to us today, I know that his words would be full of the optimism and hope that were the hallmark of his generation. Now I can only answer him by doing what I can to carry this faith along.
Ghorpade lives in Montclair, New Jersey.