Mourn the lost art of Letter-writing? Well, Don't.
Recently, I’ve been reading essays that lament the lost art of letter writing, and in some ways they’ve echoed my own feelings on the matter. But I’ve also concluded that grieving the loss of letter writing is moronic, because writing letters is still an achievable quest. It’s like mourning the loss of...say, hamburgers. Who the hell is stopping you from eating a Big Mac? No one - not even my high-maintenance vegetarian daughter. And no one is stopping us from writing letters, either - not even the barely viable U.S. Postal Service. If you miss getting letters in the mail, try sending one first.
Up until about two years ago, my friend in Milwaukee and I corresponded via letters several times a year. We decided it was simply a more satisfying way to converse than email. When I noticed one of her letters amongst the daily piles of junk mail, I handled it with eager anticipation and mentally set aside a time when I’d be able to relax on the sofa with a cold drink in hand and really digest the letter’s content, rather than the cursory scan I give messages received on a computer. A letter is more urgent. More tangible. More vivid.
And more meaningful.
Receiving a Dear-John Letter? Heart-breaking. Receiving a Dear-John Text? Merely off-putting. A love-letter? Inspiring. A love-text? At best, kind of cute. Maybe. Possibly.
And how much less meaningful would it have been if Joe Cocker had sung,
She sent me a text
Said she couldn’t live without me no more
Not sure that would have been a hit.
So over the years, my friend and I kept up our letter writing, technology be damned. Year after year, we shared our thoughts and fears and dreams on paper.
And then we didn’t. We just stopped, the same way so many others have. But no one forced us to.
Last week while visiting the FDR museum in New York, I read a copy of the Pearl Harbor speech that solidified the United States’ commitment to join the war in 1941. It was typed with several hand-written cross outs and substitutions, including FDR’s decision to add the word “infamy” in place of “world history.” And it made me wonder: what archives will remain of President Obama’s and future presidents’ tenures as commander-in-chief? Will we gather around a hard drive? A printout of texts? Will we get to read Obama’s message, “FYI, we got Bid Laden. LOL.”
What will remain?
All three of my kids are currently at camp, and the best part about it isn’t having a quiet house or a chance for my wife and me to dine together; it’s the letters they’re sending to us that so beautifully capture their personalities. Just today, I received a letter from one of my daughters, and she wrote:
Grandma wrote me again and wasted no time in telling me that (my sister) has one-upped me in letter writing, so I may have to write to her again soon. I finished reading In Cold Blood and I have to say HOLY CRAP!! It scared me out of my mind! But so well written! Go Truman Capote!
Yeah, it’s nothing highbrow or earth-shatteringly important, but it captures her spirit in a way that’s seldom conveyed in an email. And who knew that camp could reinvigorate a dying art form?
I’ve enjoyed receiving these letters so much that I’ve made a decision to write a letter a month ongoing. It could be to a relative or a friend. It could even be to someone living in my house. And it doesn’t matter if I get one in return. I’m just going to write. Maybe you should too.
And who knows? Hundreds of years from now, maybe our rather mundane lives will be studied and analyzed the way historians today research the life and times of great men and women from years ago, not because of the content of our years on Earth, but because ours will be the only lives captured through a tangible trail of the written word.
Memorialized by default.