When was the last time you wrote a letter — the paper-and-ink kind? I’ll even give you credit if you sent a card and did more than sign your name.
It’s probably been a long time.
I know you’ve kept in contact via email, text, Twitter and Facebook. But letters play a different role in our practices. Unfortunately, they’re going the way of the Victrola and the high-wheel bike.
Letters serve many unique functions. First, they’re tangible. We can hold them in our hands, see the stationery they’re written on, refold them into their envelopes or tuck them into a shirt pocket.
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Letters are permanent. I have a box of special letters and cards I’ve been saving for decades. (There are no emails or texts.) I can take them out and experience the message that each one still conveys. Some of the senders are no longer living. But their words continue to speak to me long, long after they were written.
Handwritten letters are a sample of the sender’s penmanship. We don’t think about this when we see someone on a daily basis. When someone passes away, their loopy cursive or left-leaning scrawl evokes memories of an earlier time.
Letters allow us to tap into emotions we seldom verbalize. The private act of writing combines with the emotional distance of sending and provides a medium for saying what’s really in our hearts — “Thanks, Mom and Dad, for putting me through college,” or, “Welcome, new grandbaby. There are no words to describe what you mean to me.”
Letters demonstrate a personal commitment. They say, “You’re important enough for me to do this.” We all feel pressured for time; the simple act speaks volumes about our love.
Letters are a terrific activity to do with children of any age. They not only encourage communication skills, but they also lay the groundwork for an emotional connection that lasts for years. They also provide a role model for the kids to imitate with future generations.
Letters record a fleeting moment in time. They may congratulate a graduate, report on events at summer camp or console a grieving widow. They may even comment on the mundane: “I look out my window and see brown hills and American goldfinches at the feeder.”
Letters also capture history. They show the age and health of the writer, the technology used in the writing, even the address on the envelope.
I’m certainly not a luddite. I wholeheartedly embrace technology. There are times when “LMK what U think” is just right. Still, letters have too much to offer. I’ll continue writing them. And maybe someone will tuck one of them away.
How to write a great letter
- Write by hand. Penmanship is a personal expression. Type only if you must.