Exactly twenty-four years ago, before I had ever received or sent an e-mail, I published a newspaper article about the value of letter-writing. Rereading it this weekend I found it hopelessly outdated, but, sadly, I fear letter-writing is as well. Here are excerpts of what I wrote on May 24, 1990 , in the News Record of Maplewood and South Orange, New Jersey.
I am a confirmed letter writer, and let me tell you why. I write letters because the writing often helps me clarify my thoughts. As I take the time to commit the events and my feelings about them to paper, I get a better understanding of what is happening in my life. Sometimes I am able to describe a less than pleasant experience in a humorous way, and it becomes more manageable for me. After I described a time of upheaval as a period of transition, I handled it better. On the other hand, if there is a letter I do not want to write, it is a sure sign that there is something wrong with the relationship or something wrong in my life that I do not want to face. When I have the courage to think through my procrastination, I find renewed energy for other tasks.
Letters give me an opportunity to reread and reconsider. It’s a real advantage over trying to take back words said in haste. Then, too, if I particularly like the way I’ve worded something, I may use it in another letter. Letters allow me to keep in touch with friends in spite of moves. It is nice to know I am on writing terms with people in every part of the country.
I suppose one of the real reasons I like to write letters is that I love to get letters. At the end of a busy day, it is a lift to see a personal note nestled among the impersonal. I can read the letter at my convenience, even put it down mid-stream if something urgent arises. And, best of all, I can go back to reread it whenever I want.
Which brings me to the best thing about letters: they are lasting. Of course I do not keep every letter, but there is one collection I take out if I am feeling blue. These are the warm fuzzies: compliments or thank-you’s or reminders of good times together. I take out letters from people no longer living, and their letters remind me of all the things that made them dear to me. Preserved letters can pass on family history. One of my treasures is a letter written from an aunt to my father in 1934 in which she describes their father’s funeral. “This big living room was full of men, just as Dad would have wanted it. All the relatives sat upstairs. The flowers were packed clear up to the ceiling. I will tell you about each piece and who sent it.” And she did. Those details were precious to me, and the information would have been lost were it not for that letter.
On a broader scope, letters can be of historical value, containing information not available elsewhere. But letters do not have to be written with an eye to historical value. In fact, the best way to approach letter-writing is to pretend you are talking to the person and just express your thoughts. Although you will want to communicate clearly, do not get unnecessarily hung up on the surface features such as punctuation and paragraphs. A former student who has become a pen pal wrote, “I was wondering. When you read my letters do you correct my mistakes?” My answer was an emphatic, “No, I don’t even notice them. I am too busy enjoying what you have to say.”
So think of all the benefits you will reap from writing letters. You might even keep a copy of personal letters so they can double as a journal or diary. Can’t you just imagine the smile of the face of the person who receives your letter? And won’t you smile if you get a letter in return?
© Dorothy C. Judd
I would no longer describe myself as a letter-writer, and in the next post I will describe how that happened and how I feel about it!
Next post: Thursday, May 8th