Today, nearly everything moves at the speed of light and communication as we know it is often achieved by text, tweets, “likes” or email – often in 140 characters or less — and on a reply-all basis. The decorous deed of handwritten letters is, for all intents and purposes, a lost art. But in honor of National Letter Writing Day, December 7th, how can you make penning the occasional missive a real occasion?
Letter writing goes back a very long time. History tells us that Homer mentioned letters in the Iliad, and evidence of correspondence has been found in ancient Egypt, India, Rome, China, and other places in Greece.
Throughout the ages, people communicated by expressing their thoughts on metal, lead, wax-coated wooden tablets, animal skin, pottery fragments, parchment, and of course, paper’s pithy predecessor: papyrus (made from the pith of the papyrus plant). And where would Virginia be without having written her famous enquiry to the New York Times asking if there was indeed a Santa Claus?
Because of their supreme letter writing skills, world changers like Napoleon, Ben Franklin, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King, Jr. have stemmed tides and set precedents. Detailed letters penned by ordinary soldiers from the Civil War became rich, vivid historical records as they put the battlefield under a microscope for all of us. Letters from waiting family members illuminated the pain, scarcity, and loneliness of being left at the home front. Even actress Nicole Kidman extolls husband Keith Urban’s epistolary prowess, as he reportedly writes her tons of love letters. Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s gentle, insightful written communications leave no doubt about the profundity of their relationship. And maybe paramount to all that, many of these missives are permanently displayed in museums, archives, and collections made public – for all of us to see, learn from, and savor for years and years. Try doing that with a tweet.
As time is at a premium for most of us, spending hours corresponding by “snail mail” is probably out of the question. But in honor of National Letter Writing Day and beyond, bloggers Brett and Kate McKay want us to know that “…sending a letter is the next best thing to showing up personally at someone’s door. [Y]our letter is carried inside like an invited guest.” When we take the time to organize and express our deepest thoughts and feelings, write them down for posterity, and send them to a chosen recipient, it’s about the most personal gift one can give and the other receive.
First, while it doesn’t have to be expensive, a special pen — perhaps obtained strictly for this purpose, and one that writes smoothly so your hands can keep pace with your thoughts — will make letter writing a real pleasure. Attractive stationery also can make the letter seem more like a gift. Spend some time at a stationery store picking out something that is uniquely you. Finally, if possible, find a quiet, clutter- and stress-free area of your home in which to sit, ponder, and compose your thoughts and words. Who you choose as the recipient of your letter is up to you, but he or she will surely appreciate receiving something especially written just for them, from you, in your own hand.