“Gather your most beautiful paper, your most flowing pen, your thoughts. Sit by a window flooded with sunlight, or sit in a garden; tuck yourself into a cozy nook. Remember. Feel. Yearn. And now, write.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach
Read that quote again, and try to imagine someone sitting in that cozy nook with a computer, mindfully typing out a mean-spirited or outright obscene insult to post in the comments section of a news story. It’s hard to put those two pictures together, isn’t it? Wouldn’t our world be a more civil place if we took more time and thought when we express ourselves?
Even though I’m composing this message on a computer keyboard, I think today’s quote captures part of what separates a handwritten note or letter from an email or online posting. Writing by hand takes time and thought. For those of us who still find it rewarding enough to make time for it, the whole scenario– stationery, pens, stamps, envelopes, stickers, a photo or poem or clipping to tuck inside the letter, and even the journey the mail will travel– all are part of the peculiar pleasure of sending and receiving letters.
Of course, Ban Breathach’s comments apply to almost any sort of writing, whether or not it relates to correspondence. But there is something enchanting about communicating via postal mail. In recent years, the popularity of keeping journals, whether paper or online, along with the skyrocketing numbers of people who blog, however infrequently or temporarily, give ample evidence of our need to find more thoughtful ways of communicating.
Talking is quicker and easier for most of us, and tweeting asks very little of us. But writing a note or card is an entirely different experience. In most cases, our message is offered freely and not dependent upon reciprocation, instant or otherwise. With a postal letter, there is an inevitable and inescapable pause between sending and receiving. No cross-talk, interruptions or distracted tuning out impede the communication, because we typically must set aside time to read a letter, or write one.
And when writing or reading a letter, if we are interrupted, we simply take up where we left off, having missed nothing in the pauses. I had a friend who used to carry her letters to me in her purse, writing bits and pieces here or there as she had time. Though she did not intend the letter to stretch out over days, it was delightful to receive it when she finally did mail it; almost like getting a mini-journal that put me right into her daily life.
Some of these traits are at least partially carried over to blogging, so it’s no accident that many bloggers also use postal mail, and almost all bloggers have met readers with whom they now correspond at least occasionally via cards and letters.
Many who will read this post have sent me handwritten cards and letters, all of which I have appreciated and kept, and most of which are still sitting in the stack of mail to which I intend to reply. I’m torn between wanting to answer quickly and wanting to take my time over each and every item I pop into the outgoing mail. If you know me, you know that I always seem to err toward the latter preference, so I appreciate your patience!
I’ve learned to be very understanding of those whose replies to me are delayed as well. Life seems to grow more demanding every day, and I seem to become slower and slower at almost everything. Despite this, I believe I will keep sending mail for as long as I’m able to pick up a pen and write well enough to put a legible address on the envelope. And I’ll always be pleased to find personal, handwritten mail in my postal box.
If you like to send and receive mail, I hope you’ll make some time today to indulge in sending a card to a friend or loved one. On the other hand, if you are a person who goes to the dentist more often than to the post office, or who can’t remember how much it costs to send a first-class letter nowadays, I challenge you to try something different, and send a letter to someone who least expects it. Forty-nine cents, by the way, if you and your addressee both live in the USA– and it will be worth every penny– to you, and almost certainly to your lucky recipient.