I felt compelled last week to write a letter to a former teacher of mine after finding her address in my school yearbook. I wanted to express my gratitude for her positive influence on me as a teenager, and for being a very good teacher and friend to me at that time. I didn’t really expect a reply as I didn’t even know if it was the correct address or what her circumstances would be today but I received a reply in the post yesterday morning and although I won’t discuss the content of the letters here I have to express the happiness I felt when receiving this unexpected post.
It’s something we don’t get very often these days what with the advent of emails and text messages, we rarely even get phone calls now- a lot has been reduced to 250 characters, abbreviations and a “like” on a facebook post. Not that I am knocking any of these forms of communication- I whatsapp and text with the best of them! But there is something so personal and special about receiving a handwritten or typed letter, on a piece of paper that you can hold in your hand. It shows you have taken the time and effort to deliberately make contact with another person- it may not seem like a lot but even taking the time to buy a stamp and go out and post a letter seems so much more personal and deliberate than just typing in a few characters on your phone and pressing send.
I for one really enjoy the process of writing a letter. Firstly finding the right paper or stationery, searching for a suitable pen that actually works, sourcing an envelope, buying some stamps. It all feels like a kind of personal ritual you are performing for the recipient even though they may not even know the process you have been through up to that point. I also always tend to write a draft before I write the final letter. This enables me to ensure that I am expressing myself correctly, that I am really saying all the things I want to say. This often does not happen with modern forms of communication. How many times have you sent a text or whatsapp only to realise it makes no sense, it’s filled with grammatical errors or has even been sent to the wrong person (often with cringe worthy consequences!)
I know it is not the same for a lot of people but for me I find it much easier to express myself in the written language. It gives me time to understand my message, chance to re-iterate myself without anyone knowing I had initially stuttered or fell short of explaining. It also enables me to say things that I perhaps would not have the confidence to say in a face to face situation. Things like thanking someone, sharing deep emotions, telling someone how you really feel. Writing it down often prevents the awkwardness of flushed cheeks, mumbled words, shaking hands. And it also gives the recipient time to process what you have said.
I know I have read the letter I received this morning several times, not because I am obsessive, but because that way I have been able to absorb all the information I received. It gives me a chance to process the details.Unfolding a physical letter is so very different from opening a text. Even if you know what the letter encloses it still feels special, secret, personal, no matter how many times you read, fold up and re-open it.
What’s best about letters I suppose is that you can keep them. They are more permanent than a text that will be deleted or an email that gets put into a cyber folder never to be seen again. In years to come you can fetch out a letter and be transported back to the moment of its opening. The thud as it lands on the doormat, the thrill of guessing what’s inside that sealed envelope, the surprise and happiness felt at the revealed contents.
So if you get chance this month why not try sending someone a letter- whether its to say thank you and express your gratitude, or whether its just to say hello it doesn’t matter. Much more detailed than a text message, and more treasured than an email- they even make great, very inexpensive gifts- so much more personal and permanent than a pre-packaged set of smellies or a box of off the shelf chocolates.
Spread a little joy today.