Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Art of the Letter

I determined at about the turn of the year this winter that I would try to write a letter (a real, personal letter on stationery and put into an envelope with a real and attractive postage stamp) nearly each and every day during 2013.
by Charlie Leck

I’ve come quite close to keeping my vow to each day write a real letter to someone during 2013. It has been a pleasant and pleasurable exercise. In two cases it has caused friends to begin answering each of the letters with personal and even extremely thoughtful letters of their own. What a pleasure it is to pull open a real letter again! It is an art form that has nearly disappeared.

It is an exercise you might want to try for yourself. Don’t be as radical as I and commit to one each day, but think about writing one each week. Make them thoughtful and carefully written letters – ones you would have been pleased to submit to your creative writing instructor in high school or college. You will find something very purifying in the exercise.

For instance, one of the friends to whom I regularly write replied this week with an astonishingly beautiful letter. Let me include a couple of paragraphs here (changing only a name or two to protect the writer’s identity) so you can see how lovely such letters can sometimes be (more beautiful by far, I think, than the dashed-out emails we are accustomed to writing these days).

“I’m writing to you in the early evening… and my plan for this letter included a lot of pleasant stuff about a little road trip I took with Daniel… and all the really good stuff that comes and goes in my life. But for the last couple of hours I’ve been watching the network coverage of the tornado disaster in Moore, OK. And now they’ve accounted for over 50 deaths – too many of them school kids. And I’ve got to tell you, I can’t watch this and keep it together. I see ordinary folks lose everything meaningful in their lives… in a matter of minutes, and it tears me up – and partly it’s because I don’t feel entitled to or deserving of the way my life has turned out. But it’s also that no one – no ordinary person – deserves that kind of loss.
“There’s a Yiddish word that come to mind a lot lately… it’s nachis and it means that warm, rich glow you get when you think about your family – especially your kids and their kids, your real wealth.
“Yesterday, Daniel and I got back from spending every waking minute of the last five days together. Almost all of that time was spent talking and laughing about our 45 years together… and how we got here. Not so much about where we’re going, but where we’ve been. Put it all together and you can’t figure out how it happened… how come it wasn’t a disaster… how come we have so much to laugh about and wonder about. You know, we didn’t spend any of that time wondering what would have made it better. Maybe that’s ‘cause some of the big, bad stuff is so obvious… and yet I’m not willing to bet that today or tomorrow would be any better if I had the chance to edit/re-do thirty or forty of those years. I’ll take it the way it turned out – even without reading the last chapter… yet!”

That was charming – and so was the rest of the letter – and it made my evening last night and I awoke this morning still thinking about it.

I cherish the time I spend writing these letters to family and friends. I’d quite forgotten about what it is like to get a real letter in the mail, to cut it open, and to sit down in a comfortable chair to read it, thinking about it as one finishes the letter. This morning I picked up the letter that arrived yesterday and reread it. I wondered if one would have given such remarkable thought to these experiences if one hadn’t taken the time to thoughtfully, and with care, write them down.

Oh, my! Bring back the personal letter!

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