The Art of Letter Writing

mark twain

Emails have revolutionized communication much like the telephone changed the art of letter writing. But, as for me, I cannot say it was an improvement. The availability of all the various instant communications is efficient and fast but it may in fact rob us of some very essential things.

I grew up in a family that did not communicate well or often. And having a military father, he was least inclined to discuss anything and more inclined to just lay down the law. But there was a rare moment that came only once a year when I was allowed to see into a far deeper and much more wonderful part of my father: Christmas.

My dad had a tradition with all of us. He would, once a year for Christmas day, write each of us a letter. In that letter he would talk about the year, his new years resolutions but what he did the most was share feelings, share his heart and talk about loving each of us in ways he never once showed us in the year leading up to Christmas.

I imprinted on these letters as my life raft of relationship with my dad. But what I took away from 18 letters that began the day I was born was that a letter is power. It is life changing, transformative, revealing and deeply personal. A letter allows us to craft our feelings, to create imagery that remains in the heart of the reader. A letter is spacious and forgiving. I cannot say any of that about an email or a text.

So when I married at 18 years old, the letters stopped as my father thought they should. But every letter was kept by my mother in a shortbread cookie tin and handed to me when I was nearly 50.

I remember being in a U-Haul in a blizzard between Maine and somewhere in Ohio when the roads were a whiteout and my knuckles were betraying how terrified I was. My husband was driving and listening to AM radio and televangelist’s had nearly driven us mad. So, I had the tin of letters in my backpack and pulled them out and started reading them to my husband.

We crawled along with no way to see where the road started and stopped and prayed for a place to stop for the night. I kept reading letter after letter, and then I noticed that even in the midst of tension and peril my husband and I were crying. We were crying at the beauty of these small gifts that my dad had left as his legacy. We could have ended in the ditch but instead we were mesmerized by the power of a letter.

For me a letter is a gift of the soul. The time, the effort, the care and making someone a priority is an art form we are losing. It is essential that we keep this form of writing alive and well.

paper has more patience


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