Do people still send postcards these days…?
During a regular day at the office today a post appeared on my Tweetdeck timeline about two postcards that had arrived at their destination in Malaysia almost a year to the date when they were sent. Nothing special about that you might think (except the very long delivery time). But these two postcards were sent via the Postcrossing project, from the Netherlands, and were being transported to their destination on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
The accompanying letter explains that these two postcards were returned to the Netherlands after being released by the investigating team; it isn’t unusual for passenger flights to carry mail and Post NL received them back. It may seem trite to dwell on a pair of small pieces of cardboard that survived such a destructive attack, a tragedy which has affected so many families across the world, but inanimate objects are never as unconscious as they initially appear. Every item on that plane holds an aura of what happened, it tells a story of the owner, those who handled it and those who found it amongst the scorched metal. In the case of these two postcards they contain the physical representation of each of the senders in their handwriting and their touch, and carry the scars of the explosion, the long fall back to earth. That they were on board that aircraft embodies them with an ethereal quality that’s hard to explain. I was reminded of a collection of thousands of pieces of paper that appeared in Found Magazine in late 2001. At any other time these reams of printed words, figures and symbols, balance sheets, accounting books and office administration would be consigned to the trash. These particular scraps, however, thousands upon thousands of them, were found on the streets of New York City after the attacks on the World Trade Center. Suddenly this rubbish became symbolic of all that was lost when the towers crumbled. We imbue such objects with an almost sacred presence, as if by being there they can somehow convey some meaning to us, they can almost bear witness, silently, to these events of which they were a part. It’s the reason we hold onto old letters, otherwise worthless trinkets from loved ones that have priceless connections or make huge bids for flotsam and jetsam dredged up from long-sunk transatlantic liners. They may be inanimate but these objects have a tangible connection, their survival may be the only way we can hold onto what we’ve lost.
These two postcards were sent from one stranger to another, in different countries, as part of a project championed by those who wish to communicate across borders and whose political, religious and geographical differences are irrelevant. That they were loaded onto that plane, fell to earth and were eventually delivered as planned to their intended recipient is not only a credit to Post NL, but is symbolic of the continuation of our daily business; despite those who wish to prevent it our lives, as mundane, tedious and predictable as they may be, will go on regardless. It is no longer possible to see them just as two picture postcards with their aspirational sunlit views; they now immortalise a moment in time and the lives of 298 innocent souls.