Some folks seem to think writing letters is a dying art. Between texting, emailing, facebook messaging, etc., how could the age old, slow process of putting a hand written note in the mailbox keep up? In reality, it can’t, but the point is not necessarily ‘keeping up’. In theory, we all know and understand there is much more to communication and the way we interact with one another than speed and efficiency, but in practice, we seem to value those qualities almost above all. You’ve probably never typed up a rough draft for a text. You may hammer out a rough draft for an important email and consider it momentarily before blasting it off. I may be the odd man out here, but I almost always write out a rough draft on a legal pad before I pen my message in a notecard or piece of stationery, even if it’s just a thank you note. It gives me a chance to make sure I’m saying exactly what I want and need to say without scratching out and marking up the final letter. Don’t get me wrong; for most of our day to day communication, a phone call, text, or email is plenty sufficient. What we miss out on is communicating profound and powerful messages through a manner that is by its very nature more meaningful and substantial, something that hopefully matches the importance of the message it carries.
I’m thinking of marriages and deaths, tragedies and triumphs, love letters and letters for no purpose other than to fill a friend’s mailbox with something good. Some of these occasions are complex, and taking the time to craft a well thought out message to the person with which you’re communicating can go such a long way. And if they’re like me, they may hang on to your letter for a very long time. I have a canvas bag in my desk of notes, sheets of paper, and stationery that folks have taken the time to write me over the years. Some are long, heartfelt letters and some are short and sweet. Even as I write now, I think through the faces of folks who were kind enough and loved me enough to write such nice notes. I’m so grateful for all of those messages - they fill that old bag in my desk as if it were a well of seemingly unending reassurance. I don’t look at them very often, but I know they’re there when I start to doubt myself or forget my purpose. I don’t have any emails or text that I feel are worth rereading. Though they ‘last’ as well, forever cemented in some cloud or database, I can’t hold them in my hand. I can’t look at them and think of how the writer, a close friend or family member, sat at a desk with pen in hand and thought through exactly what they wanted to say to me as if I were across the desk from them.
I have an idea for a Christmas gift for that person who is always so hard to buy for.. either they have everything or they don’t want anything. Don’t buy them anything; spend a little time on them instead. Write them a note and tell them why you love them - the more specific, the better. Tell them what you would maybe feel a little uncomfortable telling them face to face. Everyone needs to hear why they’re loved and it can never be said or written enough. Whenever an occasion rose for me to give my momma (yep, I said ‘momma’) a gift, Christmas, Mother’s Day, etc., I would always try to buy her something, a candle or some perfume maybe, and write her a note. Though she appreciated the perfume, her face lit up when she read the note. I could’ve given her a diamond necklace and she still would’ve found more joy and satisfaction in the letter from me, her son, telling her how much I loved her and how thankful I was for all she’s done for me. The note was simple - it did not take me much time to write and, in my mind, it didn't live up to precious stones, but it represented something that was far more valuable to her than any material thing could ever be.
Though I love the way messages are communicated and shared, in the end, it’s never about the ‘how’ (letter or face to face) but the ‘what’ (I care about you, I love you, I’m with you, etc..). A letter is just as useless as a text if it conveys nothing of meaning or substance. My hope for folks over the next month is simply that they hear and speak what we all need to hear: the answer to that deeply buried concern that breeds doubt and fear, that you and I are meaningful and purposeful people and we are known and loved. I write letters because I like receiving letters - the ‘how’ so greatly elevates the ‘what’ to me. Give it a try - you may find yourself saying and sharing affections you might have otherwise kept to yourself.