In Praise of Old-Fashioned Letter Writing

Embellished stationary, matching envelope, and a pen, perfect for writing a letter

In the wake of my father’s death, I received a number of cards from friends and family members expressing their condolences.  I truly appreciated these tangible expressions, which came in a slow stream over the course of several weeks.  I could read the cards and display them in my home to remind myself of the sentiments they shared, and I didn’t have to immediately come up with words to reassure the sender that I would be ok.  Unlike when I received a call or text message, I didn’t feel the need to say anything.

Receiving these cards led me to think about letter-writing, something I used to do fairly often.  When I was in college, before texting had reached its current level of ubiquity but well after emailing had taken hold as a common means of communication, I regularly exchanged letters with long-distance friends.  Reading and writing them took time, but that time was enjoyable.  Rather than dashing off quick texts in the middle of everyday activities, I would set aside half an hour or so to think about what my friend had written to me, respond thoughtfully, and share what was most important in my life at that moment.  I had no real expectations with respect to these letters.  Sometimes a friend would respond fairly quickly, and other times I would not hear back for weeks, or longer.  I didn’t take the delay personally.  I understood that my friends were busy people who were living their lives and would respond when they had the time to do so.  Receiving a letter in the mail was always a pleasant surprise that brightened my day; it was never something I expected.

Our communications today have become less considered and more needy.  We type out whatever pops into our minds and hit send, then anxiously await a reply.  If it doesn’t come quickly enough, we begin to doubt the wisdom of what we said, how it may have been received, and sometimes the very nature of our relationship with the recipient.  In contrast, letter-writing seems a less self-centered form of communication.  Texting and emailing certainly have their role, and I don’t intend to stop doing either, but I think there is good reason to buy a sheet of stamps and write more letters.

The photo above shows some beautiful stationary that my friend Lynn gave me several years ago.  Nice paper and cards make writing letters more enticing, I think, but they aren’t necessary.  I’ve received plenty of letters on lined notebook paper in no. 10 envelopes, and I enjoyed reading them just as much as the ones on beautiful stationary.  That said, stationary makes a classy and useful gift, one that will perhaps encourage your friends and family to do more writing.

If writing letters feels intimidating to you (what will I write?)start with the time-honored tradition of holiday cards.  I have a friend who sends cards for holidays throughout the year–Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving.  She doesn’t write much on the cards, but knowing that she is thinking of me always makes me smile.  I often text my friends when I see or hear something that makes me think of them.  It’s a nice way to let them know they’re on my mind, but maybe an instantaneous text isn’t necessary.  Maybe these thoughts could serve as the opening of a letter instead.  At the very least, let’s all try to write thank-you notes to express our gratitude when someone gives us something.  A thank-you text just isn’t the same.

Do you still write letters?  If so, what do you like about them?

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