The post-secondary library where I work recently celebrated universal letter writing week by providing postcards to students so they could pen a note to anyone they chose. Along with the postcards, stamps and the assistance of mailing each correspondence was also offered. To say I was thrilled by this idea was a dramatic understatement. As a lifelong letter writer, I was almost giddy at the thought of electronic savvy individuals tossing their phones, tablets, and laptops aside in order to grab a pen and hand write a few words to brighten someone’s day. I am sad to say however that my excitement was short lived. First off, while many students did participate in this initiative, many more didn’t want to. For some it was like pulling teeth to get them to even make the attempt to put a pen to paper and write a simple note. “Why would I write someone one when I could just email them?” was a statement that broke my letter loving heart far too many times. Another assault on my inner joy was one that I not only didn’t expect (like, seriously, not in a MILLION years) but also one that rocked me to my core. You may want to sit down for this one. In the span of an hour, I helped/witnessed ten to fifteen students fill out postcards – more than half, I repeat, more than half – did NOT know how to properly write the address on the postcard. Utter confusion ensued as to the appropriate layout of the recipient’s address – to the point where intervention was required. I am NOT kidding. One of my co-workers (bless her) even asked one particularly troubled and perplexed UNIVERSITY student, “Don’t you get mail?” To which this student replied, “Not really and when I do it’s only from the bank.” I could feel my heart sinking deeper into despair…oy vey.
I will fully admit that I very quickly blamed the education system for this lack of attention to the lost art of letter writing. When I was in elementary school (in the ‘80s) I vividly remember being in grade one and being taught letter writing know-how and its basic etiquette. Part of our language arts class was to write a letter, address it, then our teacher gave us each a stamp and, as a class, we walked to a nearby mailbox to mail it. Another cherished letter loving memory I have is, as a child of four or five, sitting at my little wooden table in the kitchen “practicing” writing while my mom made dinner. Fast forward to not much further into the future, when I had finally mastered the art of printing my name, my mom encouraging me to write letters to my relatives – a task I happily continue to this day.
It saddens me greatly that this lost art of putting pen to paper has fallen to the wayside. Yes, I am aware there is a strong argument for people being more in touch with each other nowadays because, with very little effort, a message can be sent via email, text, the Whatsup app, Facebook, Twitter, etc. etc. etc. What bothers me at my core, however, is how many of those messages lack the essence of heartfelt meaning and an intimate connection between the sender and recipient. For me, nothing says I care about you and our relationship more than taking the time to sit down and write out thoughts, feelings, concerns, joys, hardships, fears, etc. in a hand written letter. Not long ago I, too, got lost within the “post/like/comment” jungle of today’s online world. What ultimately shook me out of it was my craving for a deeper connection. I gleefully picked up my pen and started writing to friends and relatives again. Deciding on the perfect card or stationary, addressing the envelope and wishing it well as it made its journey to the receiver’s hands brought such joy back into my life. When the same gesture is extended to me, the feeling of sheer delight I get from finding a non-computer generated envelope in my mailbox is sometimes overwhelming. The resulting smile is, without fail, one that comes from the deepest recesses of my heart.
Only a short time ago I had my heartstrings pulled even more when I got word that my recently deceased aunt and uncle had kept the almost forty years of letters I had written them. Even though I was obviously touched by this gesture, it wasn’t until I really thought about how my words had, essentially, become a time capsule of sorts that the long term significance of writing letters became clear. Through re-reading these long forgotten letters I could literally retrace the steps of my entire life. I too have kept the many cards, letters, words of encouragement, and trinkets given to me throughout the years. My Winnie-the-Pooh hat box overflows with words from my past and present – my own historical record if you will. In fact, we owe a debt of gratitude do the letter writing fanatics of the last few hundred years, for it was their inscriptions that painted a picture of our lives in the past and how we’ve progressed to the future.
I challenge each of you reading this article to sit down in the next few days and pen a letter. It can be to anyone of your choice. Whether it is someone whom you talk to all the time or you take a leap and reconnect with a long lost friend or lover – put pen to paper and tell your story. I think you’ll find that the simplicity of this lost art is incredibly rewarding – and dynamically freeing.
Oh, and don’t forget to mail it!