Magic in Your Mailbox
My mother had a pen pal when she was growing up. They wrote to each other for over a decade.
My cousin and I wrote letters to each other from when we were about six years old until our late teens. My letters always began, "Dear Patricia, how are you? I'm fine."
I got a long, newsy letter from my grandmother once a month until she passed away. I wrote long letters home to my family when I studied in England in 1980, to my fiancé when he took a job in Colorado six months before our wedding (we've now been married for 37 years), and to my high school best friend when she moved to Oregon (we're still friends, more than 40 years later).
Back then, there was no such thing as email or texting, and long distance phone calls were charged by the minute, an expensive way to keep in touch.
But today, handwritten letters are rare.
While I still occasionally write letters to a few elderly aunts and uncles, most of the time I don't do much more than sign a birthday card. And even birthday cards are less common than texts or Facebook messages.
Why do so few people mail letters or cards? In an age of instant communication, it's time-consuming. It takes time to write the letter, and then it has to be physically transported to the addressee.
But in a world that moves faster every day, and demands instant gratification, I'd like to make a case for snail mail.
Letter-writing is a chance to practice mindfulness.
It slows us down and requires our full attention. The very nature of writing by hand forces us to take care, unlike writing on a device.
As I write this post, I have six tabs open on my browser. I also have my phone sitting next to me. I'm primed for distraction.
But last week, I wrote to my uncle who lives in Germany. My desk was clear, laptop and phone in another room. I had to organize my thoughts about what I wanted to write. I considered the information I would share about myself, my husband, and each of my children and grandchildren, since he enjoys knowing the latest tidbits about all of them. I remembered to ask about my aunt's recovery from a recent surgery. I wrote about my brother's visit next week, the first time he's come to California since before Covid. I took time to print a recent photo of my grandsons so I could tuck it into the envelope.
Usually when I write by hand, I'm jotting a list, or a reminder note to my husband, or signing something. My writing is sloppy. But when I pay attention to the process, I have nice handwriting.
Receiving something handwritten feels far more personal.
Unlike a typed letter, your hand touches the paper and forms the words upon it. The letter travels across the miles to deliver your thoughts to another person. It's a little magical.
And what a surprise when you open your mailbox to find something that's not an ad or a bill! I call it "real mail." Someone has generously and thoughtfully taken time to write to you.
For many years, my husband and I have supported children through World Vision, an organization that serves needy families around the world. While it has always been possible to write a letter to your sponsored child, they now provide the option to send email instead. I'm sure it's a popular choice, but I have to think something is lost. I imagine that a handwritten letter from a stranger who cares for your welfare has great meaning. And being able to save that letter, and read it again, or show it to someone else, is an added bonus. Pixels can't replace that tangible experience. So I will continue to write letters.
You too can create a bit of magic for someone else.
Send some real mail to a good friend who lives in a different city, and start a long, slow conversation. Include details your recipient will like, such as:
- the name of a good book you're reading
- a new recipe you tried
- a personal movie recommendation and review
- a funny conversation you had
- something in nature that lifted your spirits
- the name of a blog you like
- news (not gossip) about someone you both know
- information about a trip you're planning, or one you recently took
If he writes back, keep the conversation going by making sure that your reply answers any questions he asked and responds to news and ideas he shared. Let him know you're "listening." He took the time to write, so show him you're grateful so he'll do it again!
Pretty stationery is fun, but it isn't necessary. Perfect handwriting isn't necessary. Do your best with spelling and grammar, but don't fret about it. What matters is your relationship, and the sharing of thoughts and experiences. Staying connected is the most important thing.
As author and artist Susan Branch reminds us, "An old-fashioned letter can truly be a work of art and a voice for the ages."
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