A Life in Letters: preserve the past

Writing and keeping letters is a lost art students should embrace during graduation season.




President Barry Corey, Writer

Dear Biola students,

When I was in college, my dad would write me letters, mostly spiritual words of encouragement and fatherly words of affection. When the mail came, hand-written and licked stamp, I would slice open the envelope and read his words. Affirmed for that moment, I would move on to the next thing in my schedule. A day or two later, I would clean my desk of unwanted notecards and discarded gum wrappers and, yes, my father’s letter. When my trash can was full, I would dump its contents into the bin in the lobby of the residence hall.

It must have been two years into college when, during my routine of emptying the rubbish into that dumpster, I looked and saw his letter mingling with the apple cores and Pepsi cans. I bent into the pile of waste and retrieved that letter, compelled by something other than my 19-year-old common sense. It may have been that the closing words, “Love, Dad,” smeared with pizza sauce, which caught my eye. Whatever it was, that was the day when I realized I had been throwing away my Kleenex along with my pearls.

I rescued that letter and carried it back to my room, placing it in a shoebox. From then on, I have kept every letter sent to me. Every one. I have letters that carried good news, like getting into the graduate school of my choice. I have letters from those I barely knew, sent like epistles from God just when I needed them. I have letters that made me wince, when a friend confronted me on something. I have a letter from someone I hurt deeply, a letter I did not open for two years because I could not face my stupidity.

Letters are a timeless way to communicate. Sometimes letters confuse us. Other times they make the cloudy clear. Letters make affirmations more timeless than a passing conversation. A letter is a sweet gift — a piece of handmade writing that is not a bill. You can read them once. Read them twice and again tomorrow and next year. I keep three of them in my Bible, all having to do with early days at Biola, a decade ago.

Save your letters and cards, electronic or paper. Over time, your written history will be bound by twine in scattered shoeboxes, messages and notes giving bits and pieces of insight into your life. When someone goes through my files after the reckoning day, it will not  be my tax returns that give insight into my family and friends. It will be the letters written to me. I suppose honest letters are the best kind.

Technology has somehow diminished the art of letter writing, but it does not have to. Love trees. However, when you get those encouraging Facebook messages or emails or text, print them out and put them in a box.

And so in my closing letter to you for the 2016-2017 academic year, I pray you have a great summer. Congratulations, class of 2017! And to the rest of you, see you in August.

With love,

Barry Corey

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