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I received a letter today, but not in the mail; a friend had been keeping it for me the last two years. She had simply failed to deliver it until the early evening of today. It was a letter I had written to myself over three years ago, somewhere in the gray area between the end of being eighteen and the birthday celebration inaugurating my nineteenth year. I wrote longhand a note to myself that was important enough to seal away with the intent to be (re)discovered at some future time. And, yet, I have no memory for what the document might contain — that absence of recall, especially of something which appears outwardly to be so important that it need be preserved, registers as deeply unsettling to me.

I ask myself, “What could have the me of the past wanted the me of the future to know?” And, since I didn’t provide an expiry date on the envelope, I also cannot help ask myself, “How will I know that it is the right time to open the envelope?” These and other questions run through my mind as I hold the letter in my hands for the first time in years, and simply stare at it in disbelief, refusing to allow the object to fulfill its singular purpose. An envelope, holding a letter inside, exists to be opened — this is its purpose — to communicate a message from a single fixed spacial/temporal continuity forward, whether from one person to another or from one individual to his/herself at a later spacial/temporal continuity.

Normally, a letter comes into your life and you open it without hesitation. But, then again, it is decidedly less than normal to receive a letter from yourself. Why, then, am I so wary to explore its contents? I turn it over and over again in my hand, first the front and then the back. I trace its edges with my finger, stop, and begin again. I don’t know what I’m looking for, per se, except the vague notion of clarity or an answer of some kind to my uncharacteristic hesitation.

It has changed a lot since I last saw it. I do remember that much. It has been across the ocean and back again. It’s been following me for years. Someone tried to send it to me while I was abroad in the Czech Republic following the summer after my sophomore year at Northwestern. As soon as I left Prague, it showed up with nobody to claim it. A large black ‘X’ now covers my name and address on the envelope, as if the letter were no longer for me. Czech stamps appear on its edges, issuing a sort of letter-oriented passport to jump borders and cross oceans, one way or another; proof that cannot be faked. It also features handwriting from an anonymous Czech citizen, whose identity will never be known to me. It reads: “Zpet Nebydli.” And I have no idea what that even means.

I am at a loss. After years, the letter has now found me. As my friend said, “Reunited at last.” But, still, hours after having the letter in my possession again, it still remains unopened. As I explained to my friend, I don’t want to open the letter. In fact, while I may have some desire to know, to read, to glean its contents, the mystery of what’s contained inside is more valuable to me than ever knowing what I wrote to myself. It’s beautiful in a way and, I think, poetic. In its current state, the letter could say any number of infinite permutations of wisdom, jokes, advice, denominations of money folded inside paper, anything at all. Although there are clearly limitations to the contents of a regular old envelope (ie. it can’t contain, say, Kanye West), the possibilities are still infinite.

Nothing compares to the mystery, to the blissful, imaginative limbo that results in not knowing the contents of the letter. By contrast, once I know the contents of the letter, the effect is irreversible. All possibility inherent in its grand mystery dissipates when the reality of it sets in — and, at least for the moment, I prefer to live in the uncertainty of what this three-year old letter holds. In short, just as one cannot help but let their imagination fill in the contents of the presents underneath the Christmas tree, so too my mind runs wild with what message this letter may contain — and I don’t yet want to wake up on the proverbial Christmas morning and tear away the paper just yet.

I don’t want the wait to be over, because once it’s over, there’s nothing else.

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