In the era of e-mails and Ebay, texting and Twitter, Skype and search engines, Androids and apps, Facebook and flash drives, iPads, iPhones, and iDon’t-even-know-what-they’re-calleds, we have gained the world–both good and bad. We can learn anything, contact (almost) anyone, buy anything (even if we don’t have the money). We have more knowledge (and, arguably, power) than we have ever had before. We can be activists (or slacktivists), consumers, procrastinators, gamers, researchers: all at the click of a button.
We’ve also lost the world. Or, sacrificing the nice parallelism for greater accuracy, we are losing a world. Right now, I’m sitting here typing on a computer, and you’re sitting there staring at an LCD. Neither of us is wholeheartedly spending time with a friend or reading a book or talking on the phone or doing homework or playing a musical instrument or writing a letter.
I take notes by hand. I have typed essays on a typewriter. I know how to use a slide rule. I sew on an old Singer (on the rare occasion that I sew). And I am rediscovering the joy of writing (and receiving) handwritten letters.
Something about the feeling of putting an ink pen on paper is like fitting two puzzle pieces together or plugging a cord into an electrical outlet. It just seems right. I love the moist glisten of the ink as it dries; I love the careful thought that must be invested; I love sealing and stamping the envelope. I love getting something in the mail besides bills or catalogs (or college mail); I love slicing open the envelope; I love reading and re-reading someone else’s scribbled or swirled or scrawled script or scratches. I don’t consider myself a sentimental person, and maybe it’s because the only people who ever actually write me letters are my closer friends, but to me, receiving a letter represents someone’s investment in and care for my life. After all, they took time to find a pen and a paper, compose their words, write them down, look up my address, find a stamp, and go out to the mailbox (and, it all cost upwards of 44 cents!).
Of course, you might argue, the same could be accomplished in an email. After all, you can say the exact same thing–and it will arrive in a much more timely manner. True. But while the words matter, the intent is what makes a letter different. A letter is a sacrosanct thing; perhaps it hasn’t always been this way–maybe when it was more common to mail a letter than to shoot an email or send a text, letters didn’t seem so special. Regardless, it seems that no matter how many letters I receive (not many, usually), they each one still holds the same esteem. Someone cares. Someone invested time. Someone thought.
In my room, under my desk, in a gallon-size Ziploc bag, I keep all the thank you notes, birthday cards, Christmas cards, and various other thinking-of-you notes I’ve received…in my whole life. By “all,” I mean all that have some level of personal writing (no generic Christmas cards with just a name and a picture). Maybe I seem like a hoarder, but it’s important. Reading through the stack is a little bit like traveling in a time machine: a note from the “Christmas pixie” when I was five…my seventh birthday…a note of “Congratulations!” for completing the sixth grade…a thank you card for a graduation gift to one of my friends…a notecard from my team captain for my first race at state…a card with a Bible verse from my adviser…a letter of encouragement from my coach at my last trip to state…a tacky “Happy Thanksgiving!” card thanking me for being team captain. Some are humorous, some serious, some quaintly personal. Some I value more, some less. But I keep them all.
Write a letter. For me, the easiest way to write a letter is to send someone a thank you note. Thanksgiving and Christmas are drawing near; the season of gratitude and gift-giving is a natural time to send thank you notes, but, of course, it’s lovely thing to do at any time of year. I like to send the often-overlooked people in our lives (the school registrar, my physical therapist, teachers, the janitor/school bus driver, the cafeteria lady, etc.) little notes at random times during the year. Mine are never fancy–my handwriting is poor, my stationary plain, my words not eloquent–but I hope the recipients enjoy the occasional surprises in their mailboxes as much as I enjoy writing them.