“Then letters came in but three times a week: indeed, in some places in Scotland where I have stayed when I was a girl, the post came in but once a month;—but letters were letters then; and we made great prizes of them, and read them and studied them like books. Now the post comes rattling in twice a day, bringing short jerky notes, some without beginning or end, but just a little sharp sentence, which well-bred folks would think too abrupt to be spoken.”
We live in an age of convenience, of instant gratification. We don’t have to wait for much anymore. When we do (joining a queue at the bank, for instance, or behind a senior citizen at the supermarket checkout), it vexes us. It strikes us as unjust, as contrary to how the world is meant to operate.
If I want to say something to almost any other human on the planet, all I have to do is whip out my mobile device. With a few swipes of my finger, my words are hurtled across the space between us. We don’t even really need a person’s personal information anymore. No phone number. No mailing address. Because of social media, we’re pretty much all available to everyone else, 24/7/365.
This is all terrifically silly. And magical. And creepy. But we rarely pause to consider it. It’s just a fact of our lives, as commonplace as the sky’s blueness, or the grass’s greenness.
I feel blessed that I am old enough to remember a time before all these conveniences. A time before cell-phones and internet. I like recalling childhood, when sometimes the quickest way to get in touch with a friend was simply to go to their house. When, if your car broke down at the side of the road, you had to rely of the mercy of strangers.
Of course, I’m not old enough to remember an era when letter-writing was a vital and primary means of communication. But at least I was born early enough to have grasped some slight appreciation for the craft of penning personal letters.
A hand-written letter is contrary to everything modern and convenient. A letter is inconvenient. Gathering one’s thoughts and sitting down to channel them with ink takes time. A text takes two seconds. Why bother with the hassle of searching for the recipient’s address? Of scrounging around for a postage stamp? Of writing something that can’t be read for several days? Modern communication is so much cheaper and easier.
It is for precisely these reasons, though, that I wish we could revive the letter-writing practice. Not just despite the fact that it costs time and effort, but because of the fact that it costs time and effort.
A letter is quiet.
A letter is thoughtful.
A letter is meaningful, and intimate, and genuine.
With convenience and immediacy stripped away, you are forced to communicate in a way that is more honest and true. When I sit down to write a letter, it is almost an act of love. I feel as if I am putting my heart and soul into it, even if the content is silly or trivial. It’s hard to put your heart and soul into a text message.
Those of us who desire deeper and more meaningful connections with our friends, neighbors, family, would do well to look at letter-writing as a golden opportunity to do so. We would do even better to encourage the younger generations to follow in this example.
If I am enamored of letter-writing, it is because I learned to love it at a tender age. In fact, I began to write letters almost as soon as I learned to read and write. Hopefully my oldest correspondent won’t mind me sharing a bit of evidence:
(Love you, too, Melinda.)
Twenty some odd years later, I still smile every time I drop a letter off at the post office, or find one waiting in my box. Letter-writing is more than just a transmission of words, or even just a thoughtful gesture. It is an art, and one worth cultivating. It won’t cost us anything but a little time (and about 49 cents for postage). The rewards are much the greater.
Vintage stuff is always coming back in style. We think it’s cool to listen to LPs, and choose Grace Kelly-esque wedding gowns. So, I ask, why not start writing letters again, too?