Why letter-writing matters.
When was the last time you received a personal letter in the mail?
Rather than a letter asking for a donation or a bill to be paid, you opened a card with a fun greeting or a note from a faraway friend.
Over the past years, letter-writing has become less popular. With the ease and speed of electronic communication, why take the time to write a letter, find an envelope, and go out to buy a stamp? That is assuming you even have the mailing address needed!
When I was a young girl, I would watch my mother when the mail included a letter from one of her sisters. They lived hundreds of miles away and they rarely phoned each other.
My mother saw a letter from a sister as a special event to be treasured. She would put the letter aside, waiting for a quiet moment to read it. She would sit by herself on a chair in the living room, and we all knew to leave her undisturbed. She read the pages carefully, savouring each phrase. I knew that this was an important time for her. She saved the letters, and sometimes I took a peek. The cursive writing that my aunts used was illegible to me. Even so, I sensed how precious these letters were to my mom.
When our family went on road trips, I would sit in the back seat, writing in a small notebook, pretending I was writing letters to faraway, imaginary friends. I had a feeling of excitement, happiness, and fun in this world I had created.
Letter-writing became an integral part of my social life as a teenager. We moved to a new city, and I wrote letters regularly to my friends. It was a way to get through my loneliness as I described my new surroundings and asked about life “back home.” Just as my mother anticipated the pleasure of reading her sisters’ letters, I excitedly read each response I received. I was learning about the gift of letter-writing for myself.
When I went off to college, I met friends from faraway places. I kept up a steady correspondence with my college friends during the summer breaks and my relationship with my boyfriend was cemented through letters. He and I had a long-distance courtship and the letters we sent each other are tucked safely away in a box under the stairs in our present home. There is a certain sweetness knowing that our love letters are still part of our lives.
My mother wrote long, newsy letters when I moved away soon after my marriage. I have kept some of them, and now wish that I had kept them all. She died several years ago, and I miss her regular birthday cards and loving letters.
What is it that I find so intriguing about letter-writing?
As I open the envelope, I am aware that the paper that I am holding was held by the person sending me the letter. There is a visceral connection that happens, and I may catch the scent of a faint perfume as I prepare to read. The individuality of the writing is something to treasure. Sometimes, I struggle to read a word, and I smile as I fill in the blanks. The enchantment of a special colour of ink or a beautiful piece of stationary is a gift to my senses. I love seeing the stamps that come from around the world, and often think of the images on the stamp as a “travelling art gallery” that I am privileged to visit.
I find myself imagining the person as they wrote the letter or card. Where were they sitting? What was their expression as they prepared themselves to set down the words? Did they have a glass of wine beside them? Or a steaming mug of herbal tea? Perhaps a scented candle inspired them and peaceful music filled the air. Or it may be a beer and blues music rocking the room as they thought of what to say to me!
Years ago, our family took a vacation to the Oregon coast. I remember the day I browsed with delight in a bookstore. I don’t remember exactly, perhaps my husband took the children to the ocean so I could have a day to myself.
I found a book that inspired me and I am discovering it again over 25 years later. It is called Gift of a Letter by Alexandra Stoddard. I have been touched by the reminder that I give a gift to myself through the art of letter-writing.
Here is what this looks like for me these days:
I walk in nature every day, and often stop to admire a tree trunk, the light on the pond, or the clouds above me. During this time of the pandemic, I have been alone much more than I used to be. I am embracing my solitude and take pleasure in photography. I get the photographs printed, so that I am able to create my own art cards. I sign my name on the back with the date and place, and they are ready to share with my friends.
I have renewed my love of letter-writing over the past few months. I choose an image that reminds me of a certain person, and I embrace the joy of writing a message from my heart. I imagine the person opening the envelope and smiling as they see the picture and read my message. There have been many losses for me in my friendships over that past year. I long for the companionship that walking or enjoying a lunch outing with my friends offered me.
I came to realize that I had a choice. I could be grumpy and miserable, staying at home and feeling sorry for myself. Or I could walk outside enjoying the abundance of Mother Nature and translate this beauty into letters and cards for my loved ones.
It started randomly, this letter-writing of mine. A birthday card or congratulations for a new baby. Then I began to hear from friends about their loneliness, and the challenges of the pandemic. I collected mailing addresses, and stocked up on stamps and stationary. Soon I was mailing several cards a week. I thought I was doing it to cheer up my friends. However, I discovered that there was an unexpected gift for me too.
I became a partner in what I call the “gift exchange.” I enjoyed hearing back from those who had received mail from me. We were both benefitting in the playfulness and pleasure of letter-writing. I am inspired to continue my way of sending out love. I share what is happening with me, which leads to a deepening relationship. I correspond with a pen pal. I have never met this woman, and yet it is as if we have known each other before. The magic of this type of friendship brings me joy.
Letter-writing can be as simple as a short thank you note or a kind word of sympathy upon the loss of a loved one. It can be a card you buy or a piece of paper torn from a notebook. The power lies in your personal touch, and the words that only you can write. Any letter sent with love will be received gratefully.
Alexandra Stoddard writes, “A letter is a gift we give ourselves.” In this time of isolation, anxiety, and uncertainty, writing a letter can be a way to heal our loneliness and reach out to touch someone who may be feeling sad and weary. You need not see yourself as completely healthy and strong before you send a letter. Be yourself, and share where you are at as you write. You will be touched and moved by the mutual support that results.
I encourage you to take up your pen and paper and write at least one letter. Buy a stamp. Address the envelope. Drop it into the mail. Experiment. Be curious what might happen. Give of yourself, and be prepared to receive in return.