Box 591. I will never forget that number. It was my box number in College, you know, the student boxes in the academic building you checked every day along with a crush of students, looking for personal notes from friends, and if we were lucky, a love note.
It was this box in the middle of a hallway that magnified my love for words. Those golden words enriched my life immediately and for eternity. The moment I saw the edge of a card angled in my box I knew it would be a treasure. I would pull the other mail from my box – schedules and account information – and read it quickly while letting the anticipation of the personal note build. Who was it from? What little gems would I glean from it? Finally I would allow myself to indulge in the luxury of the personal, handwritten words. Then it would be tucked into my binder to be read again between classes or in the library for a pick-me-up during research. Reading it again before bed was the sweetest. These were notes that encouraged me to hang in there, notes that said thank you for a kindness expressed, that shared a bible verse, a prayer or a hope for a dream come true.
The notes that set my fingers shaking were from my boyfriend. It didn’t take long and I recognized the small loopy script. Though it was only a loose-leaf plucked from his binder it may as well have been written on rose-petals. My heart would thump sideways before I even finished unfolding the simple sheet of paper. The words, whether a simple “How’s your day going?” or an invitation to an evening out, always covered me in goose bumps and made even the most boring moments in class feel like a Broadway musical.
I took great care in concocting just the right phrases and sentiments when I wrote notes to my friends. When I got a response, I knew I had connected and that made it so worthwhile. I wrote notes of encouragement when a friend was lonely, scared, sick, exhausted, or just needed a little boost. Sometimes I wrote anonymous notes to send my friends on a mystery journey, intended to bring a laugh at the end when they discovered the truth. One time I wrote a note intending to be funny but my friend found it very hurtful. I realized then that words have power – for building or tearing down – and we must be careful how we use them.
We have lost a powerful sense of touch through our dependence on electronics. Social media is quick and convenient but there is something about tugging a note from a box, smoothing it out, and tucking it away to enjoy later. The sense of anticipation and reward is heightened along with the physical connection to your friend. Also, seeing their own handwriting identifies them and gives them a voice that sets them apart from the generic font of an email or text.
I wonder who uses Box 591 now. Are they rewarded as they reach into their box? Are they challenged and encouraged? I would like my writing to be as a note peeking from that box, a note that jump-starts a heart, a note that will be treasured and hidden away to be enjoyed again and again. Today I will write a note for Box 591.