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September 24, 2014

Is the Art of the Love Letter Lost? ~ Sue Adair

love letters

“Here,” my daughter said handing me a letter. “For some reason, she sent it to our old address. Luckily, Becky got it.”

In the three months I spent in Canada, my mom sent me three letters. Each sent to a different address.

I opened the letter and looked at her familiar and distinctive handwriting. I marveled how steady and clear her handwriting is, even now. The letter was brief, reminding me how easily Mom tires these days.

I held the letter in my hands and thought of the time and effort she took to write it. To look up the address with her fading eyes to find where I was staying in her ancient, tattered, paper address book, to lick and place a stamp on the envelope and to place it in the outgoing mailbox in the nursing home with confidence that it would reach me where I was staying in a different country.

Even though she was confused about the address, each of the letters managed to find their way to me, as if by magic.

At 94, Mom still makes a practice of writing and mailing hand-written, paper letters. It’s one of the things left she can do, other than read the newspaper and do crossword puzzles.

When I was growing up, I would often find my mom sitting at the kitchen table writing a letter. It’s a practice she has kept all her life. Mom even inherited money from a distant friend, simply because she consistently wrote letters to this woman for decades.

My mom grew up poor during the Great Depression. To make matters worse, her father died when she was 10, leaving my grandmother to support three kids during a time when jobs for women were scarce.

Poverty left its mark on my mother and she has always been extremely frugal. Instead of picking up the phone, she relied on writing letters to connect to others in far away places.

In Mom’s time, people relied on letters. Big news was transmitted by telegram. Later, you could make a “long-distance telephone call.” Long-distance telephone calls, deemed expensive, were reserved for Sunday nights. Each party knew in advance the time to ensure the call would take place.

When raising my now-grown children, I often wrote them little notes. I hid my reassuring love notes in their lunches, pockets or on their pillows when they were in pre-school and grade school.

During their teen years, I often found it was easier for me to write a letter to them than it was to have a discussion that would often spiral to an argument. I wanted to keep communication open and the letters seemed like a last resort.

Oddly enough, my longest-standing job was to compose paper letters to clients. Over the years, the bulk of these letters gradually became so-called “canned content.” Eventually, sending individualized letters went the way of the dinosaur becoming replaced by generalized canned notifications, calls or emails. Saving corporate dollars trumps genuine connection.

My mom’s penchant for handwritten paper letters managed to travel through the next generation to my youngest daughter, who sends me paper letters from time to time. Often they contain her beautiful drawings and artwork.

The impact is the same as my mom’s: an unexpected gift that shows that you are loved.

Email, Skype and FaceTime have replaced handwritten letters. Post office mail seems to be reserved for annoying marketing flyers and bills. Half-hearted emails that are often ignored are written and quickly sent with a click. Conversations by Skype and FaceTime are soon forgotten. Cursory texts are king.

We need to save time, after all.

In 2010, Hannah Brencher left love notes all over New York City to relieve her own depression and loneliness. Later, she sent hundreds of love letters to strangers in need. Now she has given a TED Talk and published a book—all from writing and sending beautiful handwritten letters of encouragement and support.

It seems that the power of the handwritten letter as been lost in the age of technology.

It’s not too late to reclaim that uncommon power to connect. All you need is a simple sheet of paper, a pen, an open heart and a Forever stamp.

Who will you send your love to?

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Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Lisa Parks via Flickr Creative Commons

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