Perhaps the oldest method of communication over time and distance is the letter. Hand written and then in modern times typed, the letter became one of the most valued of all source materials for historians, scholars and investigators.

Until the advent of the computer and the internet, the hand written letter that was placed in an envelope and mailed or sent by courier was fundamental to communication throughout the world.

Certainly, the runner, the drum, the smoke signal all filled a need and purpose specially in aboriginal cultures but as writing developed, words were put down on the medium du jour, be it wood, clay, papyrus or paper and sent to a recipient at some distance.

I did not grow up in a writing family.  I remember sitting in an elementary classroom with my Big Chief tablet and pencil writing my name and wondering what else could go after that.  It wasn’t until my late 20’s when I was in college that writing letters became a regular part of my life.  As classmates moved on, the need to remain in touch spawned a period of letter writing for which I had no background at all but which I enthusiastically pursued.  I found that expressing my thoughts in a letter was keenly satisfying.  Alas, I had too few correspondents over the years who felt the same way.

My handwriting was minimally decipherable from the beginning.  A genetic defect, I’m sure. I have come to believe this was, at part, the reason for my limited correspondence.  How could you respond to something you couldn’t read?  It’s a fair question.

The thing about a handwritten letter is that it is handcrafted.  This seems too obvious to mention, but by that I mean it is something you can stand back and look at from all angles and re-evaluate and change or polish, and more importantly, leave to age appropriately before posting.  I have been known to tear a letter in two and throw it in the trash, thankful that I did not hastily post it when done.

The other thing about an actual letter is that you can hold it in your hand.  It is a thing, an object, a possession.  Receiving such a letter and holding it is a touchstone common to the sender and the recipient.  It is a shared “thing”.

I love email.  I love my computer with its spelling checker.  I love the speed with which I can communicate with someone and get a reply.  I love it, but it does not compare to the fundamental humanness of a physical letter.

I hardly ever hand write a letter anymore, but I wrote one today.  An old and treasured friend who, at last report, did not have a computer and wrote to me in perfectly legible printed pages.  Front and back.  Often with a line or two of poetry within.  I went on for three pages realizing how good it feels to write a letter and to hold it in my hand for proof reading, then folding it and putting it in an envelope.  

OK, I have to confess – I did not hand write it with a fountain pen.  I did it on my computer and printed it out.  I did, after all want her to be able to read it.  

I think there ought to be a national day of letter writing.  A physical letter that you write by hand with a fountain pen or type out and put in an envelope and mail.  The activity of manually producing a letter seems to me to be critical, not only for the appreciation of our humanity, but also to preserving that appreciation for succeeding generations.  

Teach your children to write letters. Revive the practice yourself.  Pass it on.

Go on and do it.  Write a letter.  Somebody is waiting.

“Write me a letter.  Send it by mail.  Send it in care of The Birmingham Jail.”

Be well and stay in touch  . . . 

Jerry Henderson

1 Comment

  1. I meant you can be Master L’s mentor for computers and coloring. It might be more fun than shoveling snow?

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