In Our Lovely Deseret: 'You who have ... warmed my heart': A letter is an imperishable gift of self

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

A personal letter is a thing of power and beauty. It brings the writer near.

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“Thank you for my dear letter, which came on Saturday night, when all the world was still; thank you for the love it bore me,” wrote Emily Dickinson to Susan, her sister-in-law and friend. “And for its golden thoughts, and feelings so like gems, that I was sure I gathered them in whole baskets of pearls!”

“There is nothing in this world quite so wonderful as the faith a child has in one they love,” observed Calamity Jane to her daughter, Janey. Karen Dinesen Blixen of “Out of Africa” fame wrote to her mother in 1921: “For me you are the most beautiful and wonderful person in the world; merely the fact that you are alive makes the whole world different; where you are there is peace and harmony, shade and flowing springs, birds and singing; to come to where you are is like entering ‘heaven.’ ”

In 1839, Charlotte Bronte wrote out her heart in a letter to her dear school friend Ellen Nussey, following the death of her brother Bramwell and two of her sisters over a matter of months: “But crushed I am not — yet; nor robbed of elasticity nor of hope — nor quite of endeavor — Still I have some strength to fight the battle of life.”

Such words cannot be typed on an electronic device in an impersonal font and sent via email. They are too vital, too laden with emotions and truths. Yes, an email can be printed out, but it cannot be kept and archived as a true and living thing.

Letters express souls, and souls are embodied in them, in countless ways: the literal touch of the hand of the writer, the breath and scent and emotion of the writer, the unique handwriting itself. Oh, the awareness that someone you love has actually touched what you touch! You can, if you desire, literally hold it close to your heart.

The choice of writing paper, the color of ink, the choice of ink, the way the words are formed, the manner in which the address is written — all combine to express an individual, a unique and interesting “one.” A turn of phrase, the way a person underlines certain words to stress them, little doodlings or pictures drawn at the end of the text, or even stickers placed on the outside envelope all say: This is Me, and I am sending this little part of myself to You.

In this vast, impersonal world of Internet days, there is yet a longing for the reality — and vitality — of the personal touch. And the personal touch still possesses the same power it always has.

Max Kalehoff in a 2009 article titled “Resurrection of the Handwritten Letter” gives a powerful example:

“An ambitious sales colleague at my company recently annoyed a prospective client with one too many phone calls. The prospect requested to never be called again. ... My colleague sent a hand-written apology letter and promised never to call again. A few days later, that prospect called my colleague back and said, ‘You’re a good guy and your product rocks, so please sign me up immediately.’”

This is only one of many examples, and I am certain we can think of and remember our own.

Everything in our world is mass produced. We feel part of that mass production when we post a short email to half a dozen people, push a button and send it off. It requires determination and reflection, precision of purpose and aim as well as caring and thoughtfulness to create with our own mind and execute with our own hand a personal communication to another.

The satisfactions are real. “Character, personality, tradition and posterity are all emphasized in handwritten letters,” stated Jamie Elizabeth in a Helium article.

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