Messages For Keeps
With the worldwide Whatsapp outage, I spent a moment of the evening wondering how I ever existed without the digital messenger. But a second later, I’m reminded that I come from a time of paid international phone calls, specifically switchboard collect calls from Haru GaKita, my pseudonym and a Japanese folk song which literally means, Spring has arrived, but code in my family for hang-up-as-soon-as-you-know-I-arrived-so-we-don’t-have-to-pay-for-the-call. Click. Damn, I did exist, and since a really long time ago.
The person I was trying to message when the Whatsapp outage took place was my college roommate, attorney at the US Postal Service for 35 years. The pretext for contacting her was that I wanted to ask her about #WorldPostDay which takes place on the 9th of October every year to commemorate the Universal Postal Union begun in Switzerland in 1874. The photo is us selfying in a DC Metro pre-pandemic in less tricky times.
The messenger system is the digital version of the UPU worldwide letter delivery system that revolutionized global communication. I think of messenger systems as the evolved version but the evening of the outage sets me straight. Any messenger system can go down, physical mail or digital. Tail between my legs, I think about a bag of letters I’d inherited when my mother died – I’d placed them away to read sometime later when I was ready. Where were they?
I mad scramble my way into the back of the storage room and dig up the bag like a dog a bone. Thankfully I find the bag of international letters my mother wrote using the worldwide delivery system. One by one I read the letters delivered from my mother's scholarship colleges in Nazareth, Kentucky and Chicago, Illinois, to her father's house in occupied Japan.
Some of the big stories she wrote about I’d heard before, like how my mother caused an institution-wide blackout by drawing a bath and falling asleep. Some of her letters had attached newspaper clippings like the kimono-clad photo of my mom when the Formosan Chancellor visited the college. But the gist of most of the letters were pretty much the things I wrote about to my parents, and these weren’t that different from the messages our children sent us when we were apart: I’m really not into French history; I messed up my paper on Shakespeare; I’ve gained a lot of weight; did you get my Christmas presents; I’m not feeling well today; it’s cold here, really cold, not like the cold at home but – don’t worry, papa.
I remember being a little scared of my maternal grandfather, a well-travelled and learned man. But the idea that he kept all the letters from the eldest of his four daughters revealed a soft spot in him that conjured a different man – one with a heart as well as a mind. My mother’s worldwide correspondence also reminded me that if letters and newspaper clippings are for keeps so too are electronic messages and silly selfies on the Metro.
Letters and photos
Messenging Metro selfies
Messages for keeps