“A letter always seemed to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend.”
― Emily Dickinson
A lost childhood treasure
My favorite things about my childhood are not the crazy trips to Disney World or getting a Wii for Christmas; they are the more commonplace things that allowed me to explore truths about myself and the things I enjoyed. Playing in a creek at Montreat satisfied my love for the outdoors, going to book fairs at school quenched my love for reading and buying stationary at the now non-existent Borders encouraged my love for writing. I remember browsing shelves and shelves of glitter pens, stationery sets, stickers and other baubles for writing. There was something so satisfying about the process of letter writing...it is both an art form and a means of communication. My letters were not great literary works, and nor did they have to be. I could own any stylistic choices I wanted to, whether it was closing the envelope with a dinosaur sticker or highlighting “Can’t wait to see you!!” in a bright orange highlighter.
Through writing letters to cousins, friends at camp or even to my mom if I wanted to apologize for something, I felt like like I was sending a little piece of myself, and it made me take in the words I was writing and think more about what I wanted to say because after all, I had limited space. It has been years since I’ve written letters consistently, and I only recently picked it up last year because of a story my mom shared with me.
She told me that a friend of hers knew two guy friends who lived in different cities but decided to take one year and use letters as their main form of communication to each other. The two friends reported that it strengthened their friendship, and it was the closest they had felt to each other while living apart. The idea to me was simple but radical. After all, what purpose does a letter have if my friend is a text or Facetime away? But the medium of paper holds a special magic that is not found online. Humans like to hold things, and we feel more of a connection with touching the ink someone’s hand swooped across paper than we do sliding open our phone to read a message glaring at us in LED light.
This is nothing new, but perhaps we’ve forgotten
What I’m saying isn’t meant to sound like a grandma wagging her finger at the millennials saying “Now there, sweetie, why don’t you get that phone of yours and do it how we did in my day.” This isn’t a diatribe- just a reminder. I think we have forgotten about the beauty of writing a good old-fashioned letter and its fulfilling qualities in the age of mass communication technology.
Stationary is now a gift we get at graduations or wedding showers and let collect dust on the shelves. Note-writing is something we jot on a Post-It real quick to our roommate reminding them to take out the trash. We’ve forgotten our traditional writing roots. Perhaps we’ve lost patience with writing letters because it is so much more efficient to type a message that can be easily-autocorrected and zinged across signals and bounced through satellites to reach someone else. However, patience is a virtue, and I think spending time to sit down and write a letter to someone is a good practice of it. You have to take the time to find the paper, think about your message and quietly wait for the letter to be mailed.
There’s not an app for that
Out of 140 countries, the U.S. rates number 108 in happiness, according to the Happy Planet Index. Honestly, and ironically, this is pretty sad. Shouldn’t we be happy with our own versions of the white picket-fenced “American Dream” houses that come with a Netflix subscription and case of La Croix in the fridge? What’s wrong with us? Well, there is no single answer, but one thing we can look at is how unconnected we are to each other.
Mainly due to social media, we are connected to everything and nothing at once. Entire friendships are in part maintained by tagging someone in a meme or sending them a picture of your face with a flower-crown filter. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but being online for about 7 hours a day can rewire our brains.
We crave instantness. We want our friends to instantly think we are funny, instantly answer a question we have for them or instantly comment on a picture. The benefit of efficient and widespread communication carries its own burden of instantly satisfying our need for affirmation, but it slowly places in our hearts an even greater desire for a deeper connection that just isn’t being met.
Now I’m not about to suggest that picking up a pen a writing a letter to your friend Zoey who goes to Georgia Tech will solve this blooming issue, but it is one way to feel more connected again. Even Ed Sheeran discovered that taking a break from social media will help you find some “normality” and “ease back into reality.” Letter writing has that certain charm because in writing the letter you are in a way exploring yourself. You are trying to messily organize your thoughts and what you want to express to the other person.
Words scrunch up against the edges of the page, the letter “r” smudges a little, you spill coffee on the right corner or you pull out your ruler and neatly write your words across a crisp piece of white paper and smoothly calligraph your signature at the bottom. It doesn’t matter your style because either way a little piece of you is being shown and expressed in what you write and how you write the letter. This personalization and expression can never be perfectly replicated in a tweet, Facebook post or SMS message, no matter how many emojis you use.
In friendship, one ship is the envelope.
There have been many famous correspondances through letters: Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir, Catherine the Great and Voltaire, Mr. Rodgers and his children audience...the list goes on. How much less formative would it have been if C.S. Lewis had just texted Arthur Greeves about his growing Christian faith, if Leigh Botts had just Facebook messaged Mr. Henshaw about his school and family problems or if any other famous pen-pals had communicated through technology? Obviously, their questions and thoughts would have reached each other quicker. Would they have been less meaningful or weighty? I believe so.
Reading a personal letter on a piece of paper is something tangible and because of that, the reader takes in better what the writer is saying because they are reading their handwriting and following their lines down the page in the format they wrote. On the other side, the writer is able to explore their feelings more by hunching over a piece of paper and trying to make sense of their thoughts which become more personal in their own handwriting versus if they had just typed them in abbreviated lingo and jargon on a computer.
So, don’t be afraid to pick up your pen and write a letter to a friend, family member or even to yourself. The idea may seem a little ridiculous and old-fashioned, but I can promise that there is nothing out-of-style about having deep and meaningful relationships.