The Lost Art of Letter-Writing

Does anybody else long for the days when people wrote letters to each other? Before emails, instant messaging, and social media supplanted that long-standing activity? Before we were beguiled by the promises technology offers of ease, instant gratification, and lower cost? Before we let ourselves get too busy to appreciate the little things that are often actually the big things? And yes, I realize I am somewhat hypocritical, considering I am communicating this to you via the World Wide Web.

When I was a kid growing up in the late 80’s and 90’s, letter-writing had not yet become passé. Those were the days before everyone had cell phones or computers in their homes, before social media, before text messaging became popular, when people who owned a cell phone used it for one thing — phone calls. Back then, I got to experience the anticipation of waiting for a letter from my grandparents or friends who lived out of state and of waiting to hear back from them. I recently found out from my aunt that my grandparents had kept all of the letters I write them as a child. Now that they are both gone, I study those letters, remembering my childlike handwriting, my beginner’s cursive, my love of stickers, and the variety of stationery I used for those letters — stationery that said something about who I was as a person (the colors I chose, the one with the horse pattern, the one my mom had personalized with my name and gave me for Christmas).

As a child, I collected stationery and stickers specifically to use for letter-writing. I enjoyed the intimate touch they gave the correspondence sent to those I loved, and I’m sure they enjoyed them, as well. I can’t imagine computer fonts and an LCD screen could compare, not to mention the smell of the ink and paper and the perfume I’d sometimes spray on it before sealing the envelope. Handwritten letters offer a heart-to-heart connection that has not been replicated by other written forms of communication, in my opinion. No matter the words used, an email simply cannot convey the kind of emotion that a letter stained with blood, sweat, or tears could.

Writing a letter took more time than an email or text message. Unlike more modern forms of written communication, you had to prepare to send a handwritten letter and wait to receive it. As the sender, you had to find paper and pencil, compose what you were going to say in your head before committing to the paper (no backspace or delete options), then find a stamp for the envelope before, finally, putting it in a mail box for delivery.

Receiving a handwritten letter seemed more special, considering the thought and effort that went into it and the time it took to arrive. Instead of skimming and deleting (or not reading at all) like we do now with emails and other modern forms of written communication, handwritten letters were cherished, read carefully and with a certain amount of respect for the sender. Letters were tangible proof that someone thought and cared about you enough to go to the trouble. Something you could keep and cherish in a more real way than an email saved in a computer folder or a text message on a cell phone.

Recently that same aunt sent me some handcrafted cards, blank on the inside, with a beautiful design on the front and my first initial on them. I love them and want to use them. I just wish I could think what to do with them. Maybe I should get a pen pal.