Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Lost Art of Letter Writing


This morning, I woke up feeling a sense of urgency around finding a box that has traveled with me through decades, through countless moves and life transitions. It is a box that contains letters and cards dating back to fourth grade and that has sat undisturbed for years. In a way, it is like my own little time capsule, and today was the day to open it.

Our house has very little usable storage space that is safe from rodents and/or mildew. Two winters ago, I went into a small attic to retrieve a box of our winter clothing (hats, mittens, scarves, etc.). The lid was not secured, and I found the entire contents of the box covered with mouse droppings and reeking of urine. Everything had to be discarded. Rodents are an inconvenient fact of life when you live in the country - in an old house, no less!

After that discovery, I transferred all of our storage items (as well as much of our food and clothing) into plastic bins with secure lids. However, there was one box I missed in the garage: the sturdy Kinko's cardboard box with the hand-sized openings on the sides for easier carrying. And of course, this is the box that housed my treasured collection of letters and cards. I was afraid to take the lid off the box for fear of discovering evidence of rodents having been there.

However... I was amazed not to have encountered a single dropping! Everything seemed to be in perfect condition. I'm not sure how, but this box was mercifully spared the fate suffered by so many others. And I'm truly grateful.


I have spent much of the day going through the contents of this box and reading the old correspondence - and unearthed some real gems. There is something really special about handwritten greetings, and I am glad that I grew up in the years predating the digital revolution.

Don't get me wrong: I have tremendous appreciation for digital technology and how easy it is to let people know you're thinking of them with a few quick clicks on a keyboard. I love the green, paperless movement that spares the life of entire forests and allows us to leave a smaller carbon footprint on our overpopulated planet. Although it seems so archaic now, I remember the days of typewriter ribbons and correction tape and piles of crumpled up, discarded attempts at composing a letter, paper or poem by hand. I love how easy it is now to edit my writing with a computer as I go along and change my mind about what I want to say or the direction I want to take it. Since I type much faster than I write by hand, using a keyboard is gratifying in that it allows my fingers to keep up with my stream of consciousness. It's all good!

Still...

I cherish the handwritten letters I have received through the years, which I consider both works of art and historical artifacts. I've always felt that a person's handwriting - much like their eyes - is a window into his or her soul. And writing a note to someone is an act of friendship and kindness.

Looking through my box of old letters reminds me of so much that time had erased from my memory: my grandfather's love of sports, a certain friend's sense of humor, how extensively I corresponded with a few friends, how much closer a relationship I had with others. It makes me want to reconnect with those who are still alive and to wonder how we managed to drift apart when we had such a connection. (I do wish that every piece of mail had the date written on it or that I had saved more envelopes.) I can't recall any real falling-outs; I guess life just started moving faster and became busier.

All of the ways we have now to stay in touch instantly is wonderful; it's a whole different ballgame. And how fortunate we are to have so many choices about how we communicate! It's great to be able to reconnect with friends and acquaintances from previous chapters of life and to get to know others, whom I would not have met without our modern technology. And many of these people provide real inspiration, support, and friendship to me in my daily life, and vice versa. But still, there's something special about a handwritten letter or card - going through the gestures involved in sending it off and the delight upon opening the mailbox and finding something besides junk mail and bills. Something unexpected.

Surrounded by decades worth of handwritten (and some typewritten and hand-corrected) correspondence from people I was close to throughout the years makes me want to revive the lost art of letter writing. I managed to keep it alive in my life probably until around the time I returned to grad school for teaching and life got much busier. I'd like to say that I'm making a commitment to write a letter every month or something like that; however, I'm going to resist the urge to "should on" myself. Perhaps I will find time to write more the old-fashioned way, or perhaps not  - though I'm hoping the spirit will move me to do so. But in this moment, I am fully appreciating this little box I've toted through so many chapters of my life, and remembering correspondences and events I've long since forgotten.


Postscript: 
How uncanny! No sooner had I clicked the button to publish this post, and I came across a video that fits perfectly with this topic. (The video just popped up on my computer screen without me even looking for it!) It is about a woman who started a project to make the world a better place by sending handwritten letters to uplift the spirits of people who are in need. What an inspiring story!



Email subscribers: Click HERE to view video.

To learn more about The World Needs More Love Letters, click HERE. There is information about how you can participate in this project or request a love letter for someone you know.

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2 comments:

Trish Taylor said...

YOU KNOW I am doing my best to continue this "Tradition"... One a month for February.. haven't missed a day yet... xo Keep it up. Love Trish

Susan Tara said...

I was thinking of you while writing this, Trish! It is a very special feeling to receive Trish mail. You are my inspiration!

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