Amid COVID, pen in hand
I can’t recall the last time I wrote or received a handwritten letter – but it’s time to send such letters again.
The reasons why the handwritten letter died are obvious: e-mail, text messaging and cellphones. With how quick those innovations make whipping off a note, why would anybody take an hour to hand-write one?
But how much better off might we be if we started sending such letters again?
I’ve kept every handwritten letter I ever got, in boxes in my attic. One Saturday in 2000, when I was moving from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., organizing and storing stuff soured my mood.
Until I stumbled upon a handwritten letter I’d received in 1985.
It was from a fellow I’d gone to Penn State with, who’d become an editor in Bangor, Maine. As I read it that Saturday in 2000, it took me back 15 years – to exactly who I was at age 24. I laughed out loud reading it.
I also found a stack of pink envelopes from two ladies, Bonnie and Tracey, who attended the same college as my friend Griff. An anonymous letter he had them send me during our freshman year in 1980 led to a robust correspondence, and I dated Bonnie for a spell after we graduated. Rereading those letters that Saturday in 2000, I laughed so hard that tears tumbled down my face.
The handwritten letter is personal and deeply satisfying in ways that electronic communication will never be.
Email, no matter how well crafted, simply isn’t memorable.
Consider a letter my grandfather handwrote on Nov. 28, 1928.
With great eloquence, he consoled his best friend’s wife on the loss of her mother. He wrote that letter when he was 25 – nine years before my father’s birth. My grandfather died when my father was only 3. That letter is among the most cherished items I have from a grandfather I never got to meet.
Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the handwritten letter has begun a comeback. Miss Manners and others encourage writing to thank the many people battling the virus on the front lines.
They also suggest writing to elderly nursing-home residents and others who’ve been isolated and shut in for months – because simple kindness and compassion can benefit both writer and recipient in these unusual times.
Could the handwritten letter help us address deeper challenges, too? Instead of posting strident snark on social media, why not take time to think things through and explain your viewpoint to a movement leader, a mayor or anyone else unaccustomed to receiving thoughtful, heartfelt letters?
Writing by hand calms the thinking process. It brings out our better angels. It helps convey clarity and bring understanding to complex matters.
I’ll bet writing by hand would help letters’ senders and recipients alike begin to realize they have more in common than not – that our communities are not as divided as we may think. Most simply have different ideas for achieving the outcomes we all desire.
We won’t know until we try. So, pick up a ballpoint pen and write some “thank you” cards to people who’ve sacrificed for all of us during the pandemic. Then write some memorable, uplifting letters to folks who’ve suffered in isolation for months.
That’s a good start, anyhow.