For five years, my mortgage has been due the 16th of the month, and only last month did I nearly miss a payment. Why? Because in January, the 16th marked for me instead an event of such obsessive anticipation that all others were as nothing: the Post Office released the new Edgar Allan Poe stamp. It was only on my way to buy it that I realized I was about to default on my house.
To clarify, I'm no philatelist. The point isn't to save stamps, but to send them. They are correspondence's currency and, like actual money, I've often spent them before I have them. There is always a stack of letters by my front door waiting to go to the post office, where I generally stop every day (including Sundays — the seven-day-a-week post office at Corliss Street is topped only by the bar at New Rivers on my list of Providence's greatest charms).
But I was disheartened to learn recently that the postal service soon may not be visiting me with reciprocal fervor or frequency. In our suddenly destitute world we have grown accustomed to the diminution or outright disappearance of the various bits that make up our lives: jobs, homes, cars, tuition, food, vacations, magazine subscriptions, new sweaters, books, perfume. But mail delivery reduced by a day each week? Is butter next?
In truth, while I send letters, I get few, e-mail having replaced the post for most of my friends. Mail delivery most often means bills and ads for things I don't want. So my anticipatory melancholic nostalgia for letters that never were is admittedly irrational, except that like everything else in life, it's not entirely about the fact of the letters, it's about the possibility of them. Experience teaches us that disappointments great and small attend each day's to-do list, but in mitigation we remember that pleasant surprises occasionally occur. That my dream of a mailbox full of letters, postcards, and magazines is the exception never dulls the dream itself. Today could always be the day — unless the postal service has killed delivery.
But the postal service can't be faulted for not paying to deliver letters that no longer get posted. Our preference for e-communication in all its variations reflects a different dream, one of incessant availability to unceasing universal connection; the very idea of anticipation, let alone its pleasures, no longer has meaning when we never have to wait.
Similarly, in a world where without even trying, everyone now knows 25 Random Things About everyone else, what is a lone envelope addressed in unmistakable hand to an individual mailbox that exists in actual geographical space? Singular solace, that's what — especially if adorned with a Poe stamp.