A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

The Lost Art of Letters
By Susan Olupitan

In this age of e-mails and text messaging, one writer fondly remembers a simpler time when putting pen to paper was the best way to connect to loved ones across the ocean.

I was taught to write letters when I was in the fourth grade. My class was asked to think of someone- a friend, a loved one- and write them a missive. As a child living in Nigeria, I decided to write to my grandmother in Germany- even though she would be unable to read it- that was not the point. It was the act of reaching out that was important. Besides, my mom convinced me that my uncle, who still lived with Grandma at the time, would be able to translate for her.

"I hope you are fine, because I am fine"- so started most of my letters in those early years- a fact my Mom still teases me about today. Despite those humble beginnings, writing was a wonderful thing- an amazing discovery for me. I became an avid letter writer- penning notes to family and friends and eventually international pen pals- all through elementary and high school. I would feel so proud of myself when my mother's friends and family would commend me on being the only source for news and a way to get word about my mother and our lives in Africa. "Susan is the only one who stays in touch," was their refrain. And I would smile from ear to ear with delight. Impish me would even go further and say "I don't know why she doesn't write, I try to make her, but she won't" I would reprimand my Mom for not writing to at least her mother or her best friend. "Well, I'll never be like that!" I vowed with the certainty of youth, "I'll never leave my family wondering how I'm doing. I will always write! I will always send Birthday cards and Christmas cards. Always!!"

When I first moved to New York eleven years ago, I kept my word. I wrote religiously and filled the family I'd left behind in on everything that I was seeing and experiencing. They once told me I did it so well, they felt they were here themselves. I never missed Christmas. I would diligently choose the perfect holiday cards and take the time to write a special message for each and every one. It was not a chore, I reveled in it, and took real pleasure in the process. I thought I would never give it up.

But a wise person once said "Never say never."

The last time I bought a pack of Christmas cards was five years ago and I didn't even use them all. I just sent out the last ones of the pack this past Yuletide.

What happened? Life Happened!

I started following my dream deferred of being a successful working actress. Well, dream jobs do not pay bills- at least not right away. So I had to have a day job too. Then along came a husband and later a failed marriage. You don't want to write then because you don't want to hear "I told you so."

Now there is the new husband and the baby and the cat and the film business and the day job and the home based business that is hopefully going to be paying all my bills soon. And I slump onto the bed at the end of the day.

Write letters?

Now I know what my mother felt. She worked a busy 9 to 5 and raised four children. Shuttled us between school, after school tutors, swimming and karate lessons, kept us in her office when we did not have school, drove everyday in hideous traffic that turned a thirty-five minute ride into a two hour commute, and still managed to help us with our homework and cook EVERY night. As a child I'd thought: "Can't she at least write on the weekends?" But I get it now.

I am growing my home based business to the point where I can work from home full time. Maybe, just maybe, I will be able to rekindle some passions that the 'busy-ness' of life robs us of. Maybe, just maybe, I might drop a line, perhaps a pretty card carefully picked out just to say I do care. Maybe, just maybe I can bring a little joy into your day, when you open the mail box and find love, not a bill. Maybe, I can teach my own children to appreciate this "ancient" form of communication, and maybe, just maybe, when I am asked what I am planning to do in my free time, I can again say "write letters!"

Susan Olupitan is a Coastal Vacations Director, and an actor/producer. She lives with her family in New York City.