Holding the Writer in Your Hands

Vermeer--Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window

This was an unusual mail week. Rather than just the usual advertisements, credit card solicitations and bills, I received three personal letters written by hand, carefully and thoughtfully composed, all meant to encourage me. I was amazed at the caring shown by three different women who took the time to sit down and write to me.

Usually when one of my stories is published in Country Magazine, about three times a year, I receive hand written letters from people I have never met, forwarded by the Country Magazine editors. The writers are often over the age of 80. Sometimes there are 3 pages of stories they want to share with me about their experiences growing up on a farm or living in a rural community in bygone days. They share their humorous tales that make me chuckle and poignant memories that make me tear up.

It reminded me how infrequently I actually hand write any communication any more, how dependent I’ve become on the instantaneous nature of email, and how much I used to enjoy writing letters back and forth to family and friends, in what feels like another life. It has been too long. I want to commit to write a letter a week to someone who needs to be able to feel the caring right in their hands.

Letters can be forever–a tangible representation of the writer illustrated by their choice of envelope, stamp and paper, writing utensil, style of script, sometimes a scent. The neatness or hurried nature of the writing says something about the urgency with which it was written. Emails have none of those features, and can feel ephemeral, although we know they can always be found and retrieved, for good and for ill, by those who know how to look for them.

One of my hopeful projects will be sorting through my parents’ letters to each other during their three year separation while my father served as a Marine in the South Pacific during WWII. The letters are tied in bundles in a large box that I have not had the will to open since moving my mother’s possessions after her death. I know once I start to read these very private and heartfelt letters, I will find it difficult to stop.

Does a blog of daily thoughts become a reasonable substitute for a collection of letters? Hardly. The page that can be held in the reader’s hands holds the writer too. That is something a computer screen can never manage to do.