I write a letter every day to my mother, who is 83 years old and living in a care facility. It is difficult to speak to her on a phone, although not impossible. She has a cell phone (!) but her hands are so crippled with arthritis that it is hard for her to dial out, and hold the phone to her ear. So I write a letter everyday.
You’d think I would run out of things to write about, but it doesn’t really matter what the topic is: she loves getting the letter and reading anything that brings her into my life, and her life into mine. The most important things about the letter are that I am thinking about her, that I want to share something with her, and that the postman will deliver that envelope. All those things make the difference in her day.
I discovered last summer that Mom has kept every letter I have written since she became so crippled. She also has kept all the letters I wrote to her when I lived in Ireland; she has kept all the letters that her sister Vada wrote to her when she and Uncle Ed lived in England. Mom has a box of letters that Dad wrote to his mother during WWII. Boxes and boxes of letters, all from people she loves.
I asked her why she had kept them, and she told me, “Well, Susie. I like to open and read them every now and then. They take me back to the day I got them, and remind me of what I was doing then. I like to read them because I can hear (their) voices, just as if (they) were sitting right there with me.”
Now, that’s a good reason to write a letter, put it in an envelope with a stamp, and send it.
Emailing, tweeting, IM, or twittering just isn’t the same. They are fine, in a limited way. But those communications will never form the stuff of history. Think about the great letter writers of our past: Emperor Napoleon, John Adams, George Washington, Don Juan, and Thomas Jefferson— just to name a few. Those letters were kept, and some historian put them into a book, for generations to read. The letters humanize the legend, make us realize how important relationships are, and see the writer as a person clutching a pen and struggling over finding just the right word or phrase.
I have a few boxes of letters. I have the letters my then fiancé wrote to me, and I to him. They are hidden up in a closet, and would embarrass our children if they happened upon these declarations of passionate love. There are some letters from my grandmothers, and friends from my past. And I remember how important it was to get these letters.
So, I write this in praise of the stamped, mailed, and posted letter, long may they be delivered by hand.