Letter-writing: a thing of the past?

Recently I passed on a book to a friend of mine called ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’. A great book and one I would recommend if you haven’t read it. It’s even available free online as a PDF.
 One of the pages is entitled: “Once a week, write a heartfelt letter.” (note to self, don’t give advice to people unless you’re ready to take it yourself!)  So I embarked upon this task and made a new resolution to write one letter every week. Letter writing or 'snail-mailing' as it is also known is one of those things said to fall under the rubric of “lost art.” Why bother to write when it’s so much easier to just dash off an email or a text message? The answer is simple: handwriting is an intimate and accurate reflection of who you are and what makes you tick. It’s a behaviour that gives you an opportunity to express something about yourself in a way that you can’t do with a keyboard.

For a while, I used to write my letters on my computer and then printed them out. The primary reasons being people complaining about my small writing and the other being laziness. Now that I am back to the books, my writing has begun again! I had originally intended on typing my lectures notes during class but I found that I wasn’t concentrating or focusing as well as when I wrote them.
In a sea of emotionless texts and sterile emails, it’s easy to forget about the power of the pen. Yet writing a letter can reveal so much about our person. I harbour a great love for graphology and was blessed when I participated in our charism course of the Pauline Family in 2010 to study the handwriting of two Blesseds (Blessed James Alberione and Blessed Timothy Giaccardo), 2 Venerables (Ven. Canon Francesco Chiesa and Sr. Thecla Merlo, Daughter of St. Paul) and a servant of God (Mother M. Scholastica Rivata, pddm). I was amazed to see how their lives, including their joys and struggles were reflected in their handwriting.  It was possible to identify the moments of doubt through changes in their writing, even though they were probably not even aware of it.
Everyone has their own personality style and temperament, which affects the various experiences we draw into our lives and the ways we respond to them. You know how sometimes you phone a friend and their voice sounds different, you immediately know something’s wrong, like they are in a bad mood? In the same way moods affect your voice, the expression on your face and your body language, they also affect the way you write.

It’s nice, though, to get a letter. In it, we find confessions, revelations, admissions and complaints, recommendations and enthusiasms. I love looking at the stamp, the handwriting or when it’s from my little nieces or nephews, looking at their pictures, their greetings, little Valentine cards with all the love-hearts. In these letters I can follow from afar the progression in their writing, reading, using 'big words', all this being a vivid reminder that they too are growing up!  I love reading back on letters years later and remembering with fondness the people who wrote them, the path we shared together, the bonds expressed through pieces of paper which held secrets, hopes, desires and sorrows.  Indeed, they are precious!



Maybe a lack of letter-writing is a reflection of the shift in a culture towards the impersonal. But I think there are other monsters at work as well. First of all, when you think of the mail what do you think of? Junk mail. Tons and tons of bills and junk mail. In the not so distant past, receiving mail was a much better experience because the ratio of personal to impersonal mail was completely different. We almost expect to find impersonal mail, bills, menus from local restaurants!
That gap, which every writer and every reader since the dawn of both practices has tried to bridge, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and so the art of the novel, or the letter, or the essay or the story, none of these are going anywhere either. So... when was the last time you actually sat down and wrote a letter? If you can’t remember, maybe it is time to take out a pen and paper and put a smile on somebody’s face!

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