Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Does ANYONE Write A Letter Anymore?

In the process of moving to Palm Springs this year, I came across a box filled with stacks of old letters; most of them were from my college and Peace Corps years and talk about college. then living and teaching in Africa. Most were to my mother, who had saved them, but there were also letters from friends and family as well. What struck me was that after all these years, some nearly 50 years old, was the memories they brought back. It was then that I resolved to begin writing letters ... you know putting a pen to paper and handwriting letters to friends and family. There is nothing that holding a letter in your hand can compare with. Reading a short, often misspelled and grammatically incorrect email does not compare with the experience. Yes, an email can be printed out and saved but it just isn't the same. There is a coldness, a lack of personality in the perfectly formed letters devoid of variation, eccentricity.

I think letter writing has become a lost art! Writing a letter is a time of reflection. It is a way I believe to take stock of our lives and both sort out events and to give those events meaning. Think back a few days, weeks or months, when was the last time you received a real letter, one that was not a bill but a personal message from a friend or relative? In the same token, when was the last time you stopped your life and reflected on what you had done? Recently or in the past? We are the designers of our own lives as much as we are creations of events that surround us. To me, at least, writing a letter is a way to make sense of my life. I finally realized that the lack of doing this simple task, reflecting, made it hard at times to understand who I am.

On a recent trip to Hong Kong I learned that my aunt had passed away and I was suddenly overcome with grief ... both at her passing but also the realization that I wouldn't receive anymore of her chatty, newsy letters. They just recounted what she was doing but provided a link both to family and her life. They would end and she would not be a part of my life any longer. In losing her I realized the others that I have lost over the years ... aunts, grandparents, uncles, friends ... people I cared about who no longer are a part of my life.

What to say?
More than just my mother's younger sister, my aunt played a key part of my life. I remember her wedding at my grandparents house where I was the ring bearer in the 50's. Her family and ours were close and I remember baby sitting her two oldest children on our numerous visits to her home or hers to ours. I was at her house when I learned that my father had passed away at the age of 40 and I was a teenager of 16. I vividly remembered the funeral for her husband who passed away a few years later. She and her children were at my wedding.

While visits were few and far between in the intervening years, we kept in contact and finally made connections again after a trip to Alaska and then last Christmas when I went to visit my cousin and her. Every holiday we received a cheery letter wishing us a happy Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas or even 4th of July while recounting the small and sometimes big events in her life.

Letter writing in the 21st Century
When I had resolved to write a letter, by hand, I went in search of stationary befitting this. Imagine my surprise when I found that letter paper and matching envelopes were as hard to find as chicken teeth. A search on Amazon revealed few choices and on my recent trip to Hong Kong, I could not find a single box of stationary despite finding many stationary stores. Cards and envelopes were in abundance both here and there but letter stationary?

Letter bundles are a link to our past
The argument I hear from friends and relatives is that they wonder what to say, they don't have time. Really. Its amazing that they can send quick short notes in email oftentimes frequently during the day but can't sit down long enough to compose a letter.  I can remember Doris Kearns Goodwin, the wonderful American historian saying during a talk that historians were worried about history if everyone writes just email and there are no letters to read and gain insights into figures of our history. Yet, as the scandal of Hilary Clinton's server has shown, while you may hit delete, delete, delete, once on the Internet words and photos live forever. Sitting in front of a computer and staring at a LED screen is hardly romantic or as much fun as reading a letter, seeing the penmanship and the choice of paper. Even the stamps and date stamp has an element of telling a story.

While a "letter" may live forever on the internet,
retrieving it may not be as simple as letters tied in a bundle and kept safely in a closet.

There is something though to be said for the handwritten note ... something that no email can ever say or show. How else can you say or even express the simple words "I love you?" It isn't just the idea of the note that counts, it is the time it took to create it.

I urge every one of you to challenge yourselves, by writing a letter, giving yourselves the time and chance to see what events have recently and in the past shaped your lives. I think it is quite clear here with the quote from Hillary Swank, one of today's finest actresses who says:

Thank you for reading my blog and I hope that you will read those posted in the past. Like a love letter to life, they are all a reflection of how we and events shape and design our lives.

Alan Krug

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for this. I had the same experience today--going to a Hallmark shop trying to find a simple box of letter paper. There wasn't any. So I got on the American Stationery website and they don't have any more of the plain, gentle paper to write your own thoughts, either. Garish borders, your initials in the top middle, etc. --It was a relief to find that I'm not the only one to sense a great loss.