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The Lost Art of the Letter

February 11, 2016

Sophie and I spent this week prepping the Valentines for today’s class party. In the midst of our work, she casually mentioned to me she wrote a special Valentine for someone in her class. Upon further probing, I found out it is the boy she has a crush on. The Valentine was a sheet of paper, cut into a heart shape, and a sweet little note written inside. Sophie was a little nervous to deliver the card, but she reasoned, “It’s Valentine’s Day! You’re supposed to give people notes that show you care!”

The writing of Valentines – and Sophie’s regular penning of notes to her classmates and me – got me thinking about the days when letters and writing cards were more common in everyday life than not. In today’s digital age, we spend most of our time communicating information through emails, texts and Facebook status updates. I’m not saying this is a bad thing; admittedly, it’s my primary mode of communication with people. But I do think there is something to be said about writing and mailing actual cards, letters and postcards, and how those items memorialize parts of our past.

Cards and Letters

Over the years, I’ve kept so many of the letters and cards I’ve received from different people. An entire keepsake box if stuffed with all the old notes (and a few emails) Bryan wrote me in the early years of our relationship. I have cards from my parents and old college friends. I’ve kept some of the more meaningful wedding, engagement and baby shower cards I received. I now have a collection of my favorite letters and notes Sophie has written me over the years. Granted, I have not kept them all, otherwise I’d need multiple file cabinets. But I love the crafty Mother’s Day cards and the “love speech” with misspelled words she penned me when she was first learning the write.

I still have my “feel good” file folder containing thank you notes, congratulatory messages and well wishes I receive from former bosses, colleagues and co-workers back when I worked in an office all day. I wish I kept all the letters from the dozens of pen pals I had as a kid. And Sophie was excited to find – pasted within my childhood diary – the Valentine that my crush gave me (along with a Smurf figurine!) in the third grade.

One of my favorite keepsake boxes contains all the notes and corny or sentimental birthday cards my three sisters have given me throughout the years. If ever I’m having a tough day or want a laugh, I read through these gems. For example, there’s a Halloween treat bag turned into a birthday card from my youngest sister, who at the time was 13-years-old and crossed out the words “Trick or Treat” and wrote over them with “Happy Birthday.” Inside the “card” read: “Sorry, couldn’t find a card!”

I also have some heartfelt letters they’ve written me over the years that are guaranteed to bring me to tears (including the letter one sister wrote me the day of my college graduation). Every piece is different. And I treasure these memories as they are such a part of our collective relationship.

Cards and Letters2

One of my favorite writers/bloggers, Nina Badzin, recently did away with her monthly MailChimp newsletter and replaced it with a long-form letter. In the letters, she’s sharing real notes and information not on her blog. I loved her first communiqué where she talked about how an actual letter made a difference in her life and relationships. I like Nina’s idea of getting back to a longer form of communication, yet using modern technology to make it possible to share with more than one person.

I don’t think we – as a society – will ever go back to the written word in the form of letters as frequently as we did decades ago. But Sophie’s Valentine and Nina’s email letter reminded me of the importance of treasuring these bits of human interaction. And while I probably won’t actively be writing long-hand letters as much as I used to, I may just go out and buy a box of stationery and stamps, and send a few notes for Valentine’s Day. After all, you’re supposed to give people notes to show you care!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 11, 2016 11:55 am

    I was very diligent when my kids were young and went away to camp, etc. to write to them often. I wrote letters to my parents and grandparents and my mother instilled in us the need to write thank you notes. I still do. But my kids don’t write letters, and I rarely do now also– so much faster and easer to send emails– and postage is so expensive! But agree, it’s a lost art and getting the mail now not nearly as fun without handwritten letters to open!

    • Leah permalink*
      February 14, 2016 10:02 pm

      My parents always taught me the importance of sending “thank you” notes as well. I’m trying to instill that same value in Sophie as she receives gifts too.

  2. Shary permalink
    February 13, 2016 7:34 am

    I’m very haphazard about keeping old letters and sometimes I go on cleaning sprees and recycle those that I have saved, but there’s nothing quite like finding a letter from a friend in my mailbox. Since I love to get them, I try to send them from time to time, too. My trick to nudge myself to write… I buy pretty stamps and single notecards with designs that remind me of a certain friend. I hope the notes I send are as fun for the recipients as they are for me.

    • Leah permalink*
      February 14, 2016 10:01 pm

      I’m sure your notes and letters are always well-received, Shary! I know I enjoy a handwritten note, even if it’s just a few sentences. Thanks for commenting!

  3. February 14, 2016 8:36 pm

    I’m so honored that you included me in this love letter to letters! Thank you!

    • Leah permalink*
      February 14, 2016 9:58 pm

      You are so welcome, Nina! I love your new letter and look forward to mine arriving each month.

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