Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

When I left for college, my Gram gave me 200 dollars and a case of Snapple. Shortly after I was settled in, before I'd even made a dent in the Snapple bottles stowed under my bed, letters began arriving.

Letters had never before played a role in our relationship. I'd grown up in the house next door to her and our relationship was based on the every day details of life. She taught me how to iron, she taught me how to polish silver, she taught me how to garden. I learned all of these things just from being around her, from walking into her house after school or in the evenings, never knocking. Then through the distance, she taught me how to write letters.

Like our relationship, the letters were about the everyday details: the latest drama at the church food pantry where she volunteered, my classes and friends and new adventures. I wrote faithfully and in return I could count on a letter in my mailbox at least weekly. Over the years, I would slack occasionally, and I knew I'd committed a big offense when I received note cards and stamps as a gift, her not very subtle comment on the frequency of my letters.

I have friends I've held onto throughout the years and friends I've lost along the way. I wonder, though, if those friends I've lost would still be there if our means of communication was letters. Would I ever have written a letter to them in the first place? Do modern means of communication boil our friendships down to nothing more than Facebook status updates? On the other hand, email, Facebook, and even text messaging have also allowed me to maintain or renew connections with old friends, and those connections have proved to be a blessing.

Still, writing letters feels normal to me, and I think there is something special about a letter. Someone has to think of you, find stationery, a stamp, fit what they want to say to the space on the page. The moment of coming home after a hard day and finding a letter from someone who loves you in the mailbox cannot be replicated through email or Facebook. Sometimes, it's as much about the fact of the letter itself as it is about what the letter actually says.

My Gram is old now, and frail. She can't hold a pen long enough to write letters, but she still sends me cards, and that moment of going to the mailbox and finding a reminder that you are loved still exists. When she could still write letters, she wrote to E. I've saved those letters. Even though he won't have the moment of finding those letters in his mailbox, I want him to have them nonetheless, a reminder that someone loves him.

1 comment: