Senior Nation: Technology and America’s Elders with Leslie Walker

Typically, when modern technology is discussed concerning those over 65 years old, the general narrative is that many senior Americans are suffering from a significant disadvantage or gap, if you will, in their inability to access the internet.

Retired before the frequent use of email, web research, or enterprise-related software had entered the lives of the professional classes, these elders, the story goes, have been marginalized due to their lack of computer skills in a world that continues to find new uses for the world wide web.

In some ways, that impression is correct. Over one-third of Americans over 65 years old do not use the internet at all in their daily lives while 90% of all Americans find themselves online almost every day. But when you look more in-depth in the numbers, as the University of Maryland’s Leslie Walker has done over the last few years, those statistics can be misleading.

Walker, who recently spoke at the 3rd annual Senior Summit at the Talbot County Community Center, counters that this age gap is dramatically narrowing. Indeed, the rate of adoption to the internet is increasing every year with seniors.

That is just one of the many subjects that Professor Walker shares after a remarkable career in the development of online news at the Washington Post (she was the first editor of washingtonpost.com) and now teaches at the Merrill School of Journalism at College Park.

The Spy sat down with Leslie for a quick interview after her formal presentation to talk about the revolutionary use of technology for those in their senior years, ranging from telemedicine to voice recognition, which has the potential to radically improve the quality of life for millions as they grow older.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. 

The Hidden World of Despair by George Merrill

From the outside looking in, I find it almost impossible to spot someone who’s despairing of life sufficiently to want to end it. The recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain illustrated this dramatically. To all appearances, they were living the American Dream: successful, creative, wealthy, icons in the public eye, attractive and decent people. Only after the fact, do people try reading signs for motive, but any conclusions are guesses at best. Only years after the suicide of my father did I feel safe enough inside of myself to try piecing things together.

When incidents of suicide increased with the returning combat veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq I began to put together a credible theory. During WWII, the non-physical wounds of war were treated dismissively as either shell-shock or battle fatigue. My father, returning from the war, was clearly troubled. Then, there was also a tacit implication of moral failure associated with the condition. Despair and despondency carried the additional burden of shame, and implications of cowardice. Those suffering from what we now recognize as PTSD, had no place to turn. ‘Be a man’ was about the best counsel veterans got in those days. They were trapped with their nightmares and directed their fear, their sense of failure and despondency onto themselves. There’s always the wound that those surviving the suicide of a loved one, suffer. It’s living with the unanswered question: was there anything I could have done to change things?

Among the relationships we must manage in life, none gets more complicated than the one we have with ourselves. This is the relationship only we know about, if we are aware of it at all. The relationship to self involves nuanced values and proclivities that are uniquely our own, like our fingerprints. They are formed mostly unconsciously through family myths, societal values, personal temperament, circumstances, aversions and attractions. Some people are aware of this inner life because they’ve learned of its existence and found tools to nurture it. Others are not curious about it at all and dismiss it as ‘touchy-feely.’ Even out of our awareness, this inner relationship to ourselves can be as volatile as it is invisible. Self-hate is malignant and undetected it can grow like cancer. If it doesn’t kill someone else, it can kill you.

If we could ever know just what drove Bourdain and Spade to despair enough to take their lives, I’m sure, most of us would not see in their conflicts necessary reasons for despair. We ultimately value ourselves through our own judgements, and as our own critics, we can be merciless.

There is a difference between the ego and the soul. The ego governs life when we’re dealing with immediate challenges like making a living, choosing a spouse, raising children, making friends, or being successful in life. Important, of course. The soul, on the other hand, imputes a sense of ultimate meaning to what we do and who we are; souls are often referred to as our spirit, our essence. Some have an inkling of it, some have no idea.

To gain the whole world and lose one’s soul is a timeless cautionary tale. It’s easy to do in a consumerist culture that has little time for matters of the soul. A soul’s needs are not marketable, but advertisers give it a go; I’ve seen the word love invoked by advertisers in promoting toilet tissue and cars.

In Brisbane Australia, Professor David Tacey once addressed a Conference titled “Spirituality and the Prevention of Suicide.” His concern was that strategies for suicide prevention did not include a serious investigation of the role spirituality might play in preventing suicide.

Tacey is convinced that in the western world, there is little attention given to developing an inner life, encouraging the fundamental skills to help people develop meditative and/or prayerful skills that allow us access to our deeper selves while sensitizing us to the wonder of being alive. He believes this leaves us vulnerable to despair since the only values left for us to hold in dark moments are the social skills that the ego practices. Substantive values offer staying power for the soul and spirit and they are timeless. Consumerist values are all about buying and selling. People are commodities, targeted audiences, valued for their capacity to purchase. Making a bundle or being a celebrity has been likened to Chinese carry out; after you’ve had all you can eat, you’re hungry all over again.

Professor Tacey grew up in Central Australia, Aborigine country. He says “This need for spiritual experience and its therapeutic effect on the troubled soul, should become a major priority for all religions interested in their social relevance and their future existence.”

Lives can be deepened. Tacey cites an example.

Aborigines actively cultivate a spiritual life. It’s cultural, a part of their way of life. They know they possess a deeper self, called “churinga.” The word means one’s own hidden body. Youths are introduced to their churinga or “second life” by engaging in rites of passage. Tribal elders initiate the youth into his or her “churinga” with the words, “Here is your body, here is your second life.” The initiate is expected to live life from this spiritual core, and not allow the surface self to dominate because it leads to illusions and falsehood.

It’s worth noting that Buddhists also teach that the ego creates the illusions that mislead us, cause needless suffering, the kind of illusions that encourage the falsehoods that plague our personal, political and social lives. Meditative practices that characterize Buddhism are concrete methods proven to access the hope and calm, and I would add, sanity, that lies within us underneath the layers of the sand castles that our egos constructed.

I lived and worked in Baltimore for many years. I loved the city. It is a dangerous city, once called the ‘murder capital of the world.’ Not to despair. There are flowers blooming in the urban desert.

The Robert W. Colman is a public school in a hardscrabble neighborhood in West Baltimore. I take this quote from the Washington Post that reported on the school:

“A boy who tussled with a classmate one recent morning instead found his way to a quiet room that smelled of lemongrass, where he could breathe and meditate. The focus at Robert W. Coleman Elementary is not on punishment, but on mindfulness — a mantra of daily life at an unusual urban school that has moved away from detention and suspension to something educators hope is more effective. Here, students are referred to the Mindful Moment Room when they misstep or need calming. In a space decorated with bright curtains, lavender cushions and beanbags, program staff members coax students to explain what happened, to talk about their feelings, to breathe deeply. The third-grader who scuffled with a classmate broke into tears. Staff member Oriana Copeland held his hand as they talked. There were no harsh words. He came around slowly.”

Urban decay is one of America’s worst breeding grounds for violence and despair, violence perpetrated against self and on others. I am profoundly grateful to the people of the Robert W. Coleman school for giving as a vision of hope and possibility in an increasingly despondent world.

The long journey toward inward discovery begins with that first step, taken by the people who care.

Food Friday: Out of the Mouths of Babes

An impressive array of fruits and vegetables are ripening this very minute. As you sit reading this on your phone, I hope you have got some reusable shopping backs in the back of your car, and you are ready to hit the farmers’ markets with enthusiasm. You need to go stock up on blueberries and cherries. Right now. No delay. Because you can make the easiest desserts without worrying about anything but the deliciousness that comes with summer fruits.

I have finally reached an age where my son can share his own advice and recipes. This is one of the wonders of overlapping lives. Had I known this about him back when we were pacing the floor early in the morning, when he was wailing and wouldn’t sleep, when I discovered that the farm report on TV was a real thing, and not just a myth, it might have cheered my sleep-deprived self a little, and lifted my weary soul knowing that one day he would grow and thrive and be much taller than I was. That after the dark despair of those nights, I would one day be given a recipe for blueberry cobbler by a mewling, puking, outraged infant. Imagine that!

Chez Panisse’s Blueberry Cobbler (courtesy of the New York Times)
https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/9291-chez-panisses-blueberry-cobbler

INGREDIENTS
THE BERRIES:
4 ½ cups fresh blueberries
⅓ cup sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
THE DOUGH:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
¾ cup heavy cream, plus additional for serving, if desired

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. To prepare the berries, place in a bowl and toss with the sugar and flour. Set aside.
To make the dough, mix the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in a bowl. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cream and mix lightly, just until the dry ingredients are moistened.

Put the blueberries in a 1 1/2-quart gratin or baking dish. Make patties out of the dough, 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter and 1/2-inch thick. Arrange them over the top of the berries. Bake until the topping is brown and the juices bubble thickly around it, about 35 to 40 minutes.
Let cool slightly. Serve warm, with cream to pour on top, if desired.

Sadly, there is a hitch to my fairy tale: I prefer cherry crumble. I am not a big fan of baked blueberries, unless they come wrapped in a nice warm muffin. Forgive me, Tall One. Let me suggest that you try baking this cherry crumble this weekend, as one adult to another.

Fresh Cherry Crumble
(Thanks you, https://www.countryhillcottage.com/cherry-crumble/)

For cherry filling
2 lb / approximately 6 cups sweet cherries, cleaned and pitted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch

For the hazelnut streusel
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, cane sugar
1cup ground hazelnuts
2/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For decorating
confectioners’ sugar for decorating
1) Prep work
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Grease the ramekins or pie dish with butter, vegetable, oil or baking spray.

2) Cook the cherries
Add the cherries, granulated sugar, and corn starch into a heavy bottom saucepan and stir until well combined. Let the cherries macerate for 20 minutes to 1 hour, so the fruits soften and draw juice. If the cherries don’t draw a lot of moisture, add 3/4 – 1 cup water or cherry juice.  Then cook the cherries for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cherries soften, and the mixture thickens. Stir constantly, so the fruit doesn’t burn at the bottom of the saucepan.

3) Make the hazelnut streusel
Add the all-purpose flour, brown sugar, hazelnuts, cinnamon, and cold butter cubes into a large mixing bowl. And knead into a crumbly mixture. Use your fingertips to squeeze together the dough to form large clumps.

4) Bake the crumble
Spoon the cherry mixture into the prepared baking dish(es) and top with the streusel. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve warm or cold with cream, or ice cream.

I’m not trying to have the last word. Really. I’ll make the Blueberry Cobbler for Mr. Friday. And he will be amazed, just like I was, that everyone is growing up and changing.

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald

Mid-Shore History: Frederick Douglass and Wye House with Richard Tilghman

It is impossible to go through the bicentennial year of Frederick Douglass and not talk about Wye House. And that is particularly the case with those who live on the Mid-Shore where one of America’s greatest heroes was born and raised.

While Douglass is only on record of having lived at Wye from approximately age six to nine, it is remarkable how much recollection he had of the place when he began writing his memories some decades later in 1845.

In fact, his memory of Wye was so indelibly fixed that he could recall in precise detail the physical location of almost every part of the estate including its smokehouse, kitchens, stables and slave quarters that archaeologists were returning to Wye more than hundred years later they were shocked to discover how accurate Douglass had been.

Wye is also the place that Douglass returned to at the very end of his life to reconcile those memories and formally forgive the the man who had beaten him while being a slave, the notorious slave driver Edward Covey in St. Michaels in 1891.  On that trip, he also decided to return to Wye House to meet with the descendant of Edward Lloyd, the original owner of the Wye plantation.

The Spy travelled to Wye House a few months ago to talk with the current owner, Richard Tilghman, who is also a direct descendant of the Lloyd family, to talk about the remarkable relationship of his family’s property with Douglass.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about the the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial on the Mid-Shore please go here

Birds of a Feather by George Merrill

I met a wren one morning. She stood on my studio doorstep. Appearing so fearless, she surprised me.

Various kinds of wildlife pass by my studio window all the time; deer, turkeys, otters, groundhogs, rabbits, buzzards, eagles, owls and ospreys. I hear the frequent whimper of squirrels. I have never understood what troubles them that they sound so plaintive.

I am surrounded by trees that whisper in breezes. The magnolia tree is different; its large leaves strike each other emitting not a soft rush as conifers or hardwoods do, but a kind of rattling you hear when wind blows though venetian blinds.

While my relationship to regional wildlife is a fond one, except for ticks, it’s typically distant.

It was unusual for me to see wildlife as close up as the wren. As I approached, I fully expected she would fly away. Instead, she flew and lighted even closer to me on the railing by the steps. She looked at me. I stood still for fear of spooking her. Now she was barely more than three feet from where I stood. A fledgling, I was sure. On her head, I could see unruly strands of nap rather than smooth feathers. I reckoned that this was perhaps one of her early explorations of the neighborhood. She still possessed that precious once in a lifetime gift, the innocence of youth that revels in curiosity and wonder while finding the world irresistibly enchanting.

I didn’t move. In the background, I could hear the loud and insistent chirping of another wren. Perhaps it was Mom or Dad calling for her to come back home “this very instant” the way impatient parents yell at children who heedlessly wander away.

I moved my hand toward her. She turned her head side to side, first eying my hand from one side and then from the other. I suspect she may have been wondering if this was the best time to get out of there. Was she as curious about her proximity to me as I was to her?

Fidgeting some, she remained on the spot. Since she flew up from the doormat onto the railing, I knew she could fly. I was glad she wasn’t staying just because she was injured. Maybe I was flattered that given the choice to stay or leave, she found me interesting enough to hang out for a few minutes to see what I was all about.

Finally, she flew away – back home I assume. However, her leaving did not in the least silence the raucous chirping of the other wren somewhere in the distance. Some parent was probably lecturing this hapless bird brain about never crossing the street alone and especially sitting on some stranger’s doorstep. It’s sad as I think about it, though; that with so many of our wildlife neighbors conditioned to be wary of us, and we of them, man, beast and bird alike are consigned to regard our differences as dangers rather than opportunities for discovery. A peaceable kingdom is not immediately in the offing, but for mutual ecological survival, better it gets on the agenda sooner than later.

Today among our own species, citizens of the same country or even individuals in the same family, differences become occasions for suspicion. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in racial discrimination of blacks by white Americans. We also see the LGBT community being maligned and treated as moral failures while they justly appeal for respect and equality in a predominantly heterosexual society.

After 200,000 years on the planet, we still don’t know how to regulate differences except with violence and by discrimination. It’s as if we’re evolution’s immature adolescents, clinging to personal identities that affirm nothing more enlightening than, “I’m not like them.” This is an old problem, old enough to have been highlighted in Luke’s gospel written over 1900 years ago. We are slow learners. Hopefully we’ll be late bloomers. The parable is instructive

Luke’s story goes roughly like this. Two men go up to the temple to pray. One is a Pharisee, a religious elite of that era. He is full of himself and looks down on everyone, or as my grandmother liked to say, “puts on airs.” He prays: “I thank you God that I’m not greedy, dishonest or an adulterer like everyone else or like that tax collector over there.” In those days, a tax collector was considered a social pariah. “I fast, and tithe generously,” the Pharisee’s prayer concludes.

What a guy!

The tax collector, on the other hand, stands apart from him, doesn’t even lift his head to heaven, but instead beats his breast, saying “God have pity on me, a sinner.”

Jesus likes the tax collector better and declares that the tax-collectors is the one that’s right with God.

Not for a moment do I interpret this story as endorsing self-denigration as a direct route to holiness. However, I do read it as a statement that humility, is. Arrogance and humility play out very differently in the human equation as much as they do in divine-human confrontations. It’s the difference between believing in possibilities – being open – or dismissing others contemptuously, as a bigot does. In humility, there’s also a suggestion of reverence, a sense of the integrity and potential goodness we are prepared, at least for starters, to impute to others with whom we deal. Stereotyping is a form of arrogance – thank God, I’m not like him.

A long way from a young wren sitting on my door step, you say? Not really. I was closer that morning than I have ever been to a wren in the wild. The wren’s openness made for a meeting between species. She had not responded fearfully as I’d fully expected, but behaved curiously, instead. And indeed, it turned out to be a moment for a mutual regulation of differences. I don’t normally talk to birds nor do any birds let me close enough so I can.

Imagine if gays and straights, blacks and whites, or that Muslims and Christians could feel sufficiently safe to confide with each other what it’s like to be the kind of people we are. It’s heartwarming to think how, in the last analysis, we might discover we’re more birds of a feather than we’d ever imagined.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Food Friday: Father’s Day

We have a holiday family tradition. If the holiday is not food-centric (i.e. Thanksgiving=turkey) we usually try to have a good, buttery, messy, celebratory lobster dinner, complete with corn, beer and lots of laughter. I think a lot of laughter is called for these days, and so we will celebrate mightily on Father’s Day as we toss some bugs into the lobster pot. It will be an Instagram moment!

I read a lovely tribute to Anthony Bourdain the other day. Actually, every story about him has been a moving paean. What an incredible force of nature with an appetite for all the wonderful and mundane that the world offers up. I’m adding a link to a story about his daughter, and a food choice she made which delighted him. Lobster used to be the working man’s food of New England, not fussy or rarefied, or expensive. No candlelight is needed, nor is there any call for a maitre d’. I think Bourdain would approve of a simple lobster fest for Father’s Day. He would enthuse. Read this and see if you don’t agree with me: https://www.bonappetit.com/people/chefs/article/ever-wonder-how-anthony-bourdain-came-to-be-anthony-bourdain-and-what-he-looked-like-in-1972

A two-pound lobster, serving one, fetches $9.99 per pound this summer. (Conversely, ground chuck is $3.99 per pound, and I bet I can get four hamburgers from that pound.) Before lobster became a pricy treat, it was considered food good enough for servants and prison inmates. Colonial dock workers had a contract stating that they would NOT be fed lobster more than three times a week. People fed lobster to their cats. (https://psmag.com/economics/how-lobster-got-fancy-59440) Lobsters were abundant, easily caught, and simple to prepare. Lobster grew in popularity as the nation expanded west, and it began popping up on restaurant menus in hotels and on trains. It developed cachet. And as lobsters are not caught in South Dakota or Ohio, both the demand and appeal grew.

We steam our lobsters in a huge honking pot. Heartless as we are, we usually stage a lobster race on the kitchen floor. Our children have been deeply scarred as they watched the race participants being tossed into pots of boiling water.

Choose a pot large enough to hold all the lobsters comfortably; do not crowd them. A 4 to 5 gallon pot can handle 6 to 8 pounds of lobsters.
Put 2 inches of salted water in the bottom of a large kettle.
Set a steamer inside the pot and bring to a rolling boil over high heat.
Add the live lobsters one at a time, cover pot, and start timing.

It takes about 10 minutes for a 1-pound lobster, 12 minutes for 1 1/4 pounds, 18 minutes for 2-pounds. The shells will be bright red. Be sure to melt plenty of butter. https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/perfectly-steamed-lobster

Or, you can broil lobster tails: https://sweetcsdesigns.com/10-minute-perfect-broiled-lobster-tails-recipe/

You can skip right to the lobster roll and discover if you come from the butter camp or the mayonnaise camp: https://www.chowhound.com/recipes/lobster-rolls-29308

Or you can get Food52 fancy and poach them in oil: https://food52.com/recipes/4155-olive-oil-poached-fish-or-shellfish

I’m sure you and your group will find the ideal lobster recipe, and will write your own family’s chapter about lobster races on the kitchen floor. Enjoy your Father’s Day. Don’t spend money on a tie, buy a lobster! It will be much more memorable! Grab the gusto and torment your children!

“Lobsters display all three of the classical biological characteristics of an insect, namely: 1. It has way more legs than necessary. 2. There is no way you would ever pet it. 3. It does not respond to simple commands such as ‘Here, boy!’”
-Dave Barry

https://www.history.com/news/a-taste-of-lobster-history

Character Counted: Jack Gill, Talbot County Public Schools, and the U.S. Naval Academy

Test scores and other metrics can and should be used to evaluate the success of a public education, but what those measurements will never be able to statistically record is the development of personal character with its graduates.

Hard to quantify, and fostered from many sources like families and mentors, one’s character, much more than testing above state averages in math or science, is the one essential quality that will make the difference in having a successful life. Unfortunately, there is no standard test to measure such a thing.

All one can go by is anecdotal evidence that a young person has not only developed a sense of self that can project confidence but the mindset to persevere when things go wrong.

That is why the Spy was so interested in hearing about St. Michaels High School’s Jack Gill and his lifelong dream of attending the United States Naval Academy. While Jack’s story eventually turns out well, he was tested in a way where only a strong character can remain resilient.

Valedictorian, class president, athlete, countless with hours of volunteer work, and the blessings of Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen and the 1st District’s Andy Harris, Jack had been on a two-year campaign to win an appointment to Annapolis. While he applied to a few safety schools, things were looking exceptionally positive as he waited out the arrival of news from the Naval Academy.

And, at last, he did get that notice, but it wasn’t the news he sought. The words “waitlisted” flew off the official correspondence which Jack immediately knew meant that he had about a one percent change of ever securing an appointment to the academy.

In the face of such a severe blow, when it would be more typical to retreat into depression or readjust personal goals, Jack continued to keep the fight going.

The Spy would submit that Jack’s story, as told in our interview with him at Bullitt House, is part of that anecdotal evidence that Talbot County Public Schools is producing some remarkable results.

Grants in Action: Tilghman Youth Association and Women & Girls Fund Team Work

When it comes to supporting girls and young women on Tilghman Island, there is nothing more impressive than the long standing relationship between the Tilghman Area Youth Association and the Women & Girls Fund.

Starting with the TAYA’s founder Ginny Cornwell efforts to seek support for programs to mentor young girls in the 5th grade several years ago, the relationship with the WGF has grown to not only cover these critical after-school programs but has recently branched out to also support young women who help with those programs, – many of whom are alumni of the elementary school program – as they begin their lives as young adults.

The Spy sat down with TAYA’s current director, Ann Fawley and WGF board member Allison Burr Hicks to understand the real impact this team effort has on the quality of life for both girls and young women on the Island.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about the Tilghman Area Youth Association  please go here

This is the seventh in a series of stories focused on the work of the Women & Girls Fund of the Mid-Shore. Since 2002, the Fund has channeled its pooled resources to organizations that serve the needs and quality of life for women and girls in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot Counties. The Spy, in partnership with the Women & Girls Fund, are working collaboratively to put the spotlight on twelve of these remarkable agencies to promote their success and inspire other women and men to support the Fund’s critical role in the future.

 

 

Election 2018: 1st District LWV Democratic Candidates Forum Highlights

While the League of Women Voters forum on Sunday afternoon at Chesapeake College for Republicans running in the 1st District primary race turned out to be a bust with only one candidate (Rep. Andy Harris) out of three showing up, which meant, according to League rules, the program was canceled, the Democrats seemed to make up for it by having all five of their primary candidates show up for their own LWV  forum a few hours later.

Candidates Jesse Colvin, Allison Galbraith, Erik Lane, Michael Pullen, and Steve Worton all made their case for winning the Democratic nomination on June 26 to take on Representative Harris in the general election in November.

The Spy was there to capture their opening statements and responses to audience questions.

This video is approximately fifty-six minutes in length

P.S. I Love You by George Merrill

For me, receiving mail has lost its magic.

I once loved anticipating mail. Getting it now is perfunctory, like bringing in garbage cans. Today I receive mostly advertisements printed on intrusive cards some larger than four by five. They hardly fit in the mail box. Then there’s the relentless stream of bills. The joy of anticipation is gone. Once, the excitement of getting the mail was finding a real letter, handwritten, addressed to me. Few if any write letters any more. The world of communication, once a twist of the wrist, has gone electronic. We are literally, snagged by the web, trapped in the net.

I once read that in sixteen-eighty in London, England, the mail system functioned 24/7. If Mrs. Dalloway invited me to take tea with her at 4:00 pm, I’d receive her invitation at 10:00 am. I would post my response straightaway and she’d receive it by noon. Anywhere in London for a penny. It got pricey if you posted out of town, and there was a caveat: the receiver paid postage, not the sender. Considering all the junk mail I receive, wouldn’t it be neat if the post would not surrender my mail to me unless I first paid up? Just say no, would do the trick.

In colonial times, communicating with kin overseas was stressful and cumbersome. A ship’s officer arriving in port with letters without stamps would advertise in the local newspaper. They’d list the names of those having mail and for them to come collect and pay for it, if not already paid for by the sender. I would imagine a husband in London, sending a letter to his wife in Annapolis, would cost her an arm and leg to claim it. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it sure ups the ante in the family budget no matter who pays.

Aviation promised more speedy mail delivery. In its infancy, however, the pilot was more at risk than any mail man was when a junkyard dog tore after him. Without instrumentation, pilots became disoriented when flying through clouds. Pilots might swear they were flying level but in fact were in deep descent. Crashes were frequent.

I remember three chapters in my life when receiving mail was exhilarating. The first was during WWII. I’d receive V-MAILS, letters from my father while he was at war. The return address read cryptically: “Somewhere in Europe.”

Then came my cereal box years. Cereal makers, like those producing Wheaties and Kix, offered toys like the ‘secret decoder ring” that broke all codes or another ring that, by changing color, “foretold weather.” Mailing off a quarter with the box top would assure that I’d possess one of these wonders. After I’d mailed off my submission, I would begin counting the days and even intercept the mailman before he reached the door.

In late adolescence, I was in and out of love. For some of these loves, letters were part of the romance and I came to expect them. The wait for letters was excruciating. I now marvel at how verbose lovers are at eighteen. I simply couldn’t write enough to shape the nuances of my emerging passions and give a voice to my excited sentiments. Run-on sentences were the name of the game.

In today’s post-modern world, hand written letters have been eclipsed by email. Email is fast, economical, and costs the same to send anywhere in the world. Emails arrive almost instantly and like mice, seeing one always means there’s lots more. Some are bizarre. I used to get regular emails from a barrister in the Caribbean who’d address me as ‘Dearest.’ He’d urge me to respond immediately as he was keeping fifty thousand pounds in trust for me.

Email, especially texting, has spawned a form of hieroglyphics designed to reduce words to their marrow. It makes electronic messaging even faster, by lessening the time a writer spends composing texts. For the uninitiated, these symbols are inscrutable and seem more like the periodic table or scientific equations than real words or even sentences. Even the tender sentiments they purport to communicate become tepid and as ho hum as yesterday’s alphabet soup.

How about instead of emailing or texting your loved one, “I can’t wait to look into your eyes and savor the soft scent of your perfume,” you write ‘ILU/ILY’ which means “I love you.” ‘XOXOXO,’ means, I want to hug and kiss you. It works for some, but not for me. Is this only because I’m a luddite, that I’m so old a dog I disdain new tricks? I’d say it’s more than that. It’s about nuance and in my opinion, next to facial expressions, only words can hone our emotions to such fine tolerances.

Tweets serve communication the way fireworks light up the night sky: while they catch your eye, they quickly fizzle. No nuance, here.

Letters take a lot of time and thought to write. It would take me the same time to write one letter by hand than to dash off twenty emails. In communicating with a spouse, loved one or friend, the nature of affection encourages the sharing of many different thoughts and feelings like pillow talk that is lengthy and meandering.

Electronic communication is a boon for commerce. It’s great for communicating data or gathering information, arranging appointments, ordering holiday gifts and getting directions to unfamiliar places.

When kissing my wife before bedtime, however, I can’t imagine holding her and saying ‘ILU/ILY.’ Nothing beats a plain old fashioned, breathy, “I love you,” whether it’s carefully written long hand or whispered softly in an ear. Consider something as sensual as hugs and kisses; when reduced to a formulaic, ’XOXOXO,’ it loses all its pizazz.

A simple ‘PS, I love you,’ works better.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.