Yesterday I got a letter. Not in my inbox – my mailbox, the one at the end of the driveway that fills daily with catalogs and heaps of ads that end up in the recycle bin. The letter was a thank you note from a dear friend who had stayed overnight on her way through town on business. I recognized her handwriting on the outside of the envelope and opened it immediately, eager to spend a moment with my friend on the page.
I don’t write letters anymore, except thank you notes. Email has replaced them, and I’m not sure that’s a positive development. It is convenient, and quicker. I appreciate that, and know how invaluable it is for me now. In the 80’s, my husband and I wrote hundreds of letters to each other during a two-year, long-distance stint early in our relationship. I remember how I felt receiving and reading his letters, and the things we learned about one another from our writing.
Hannah Brencher’s TED talk on letter writing moved me. She is the same age as my daughter, and a few things she said made me feel sad for their generation. Most of them will never receive a letter written by hand, on paper, thoughtfully composed in earnest. Brencher defines letter writing as an art form, and is hopeful that it will not disappear. Her initiative, More Love Letters, might keep it alive. Check out her site and read poignant requests from friends who know that some thoughtful words of support might make a difference for someone they love. You can pen a letter and drop it in the mail for them.
John Steinbeck began each day with correspondence. He wrote a letter to his friend and editor as a way of “getting my mental arm in shape to pitch a good game.” It was a warm-up for him. In Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters, we catch a personal and engaging glimpse of the Nobel Prize winning novelist. Through his letters, we receive the gift of his reflections. And letter writing provided a gift for himself as well: a space in which to crack his writing knuckles and get out of his own way. Any activity that might do that for me would be noteworthy.
Carolyn and Leah
Writing Exercise: Write a letter to fulfill one of the requests on the More Love Letters website. There is also a box at most local Post Offices for our soldiers abroad. They enjoy receiving an anonymous note about life at home.