The Lost Art of the Letter

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.

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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