“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.
In 1774, John Adams sent a letter from Boston to his wife, Abigail, who was staying at her father’s house in Weymouth. In part, he wrote: “We live my dear Soul, in an Age of Tryal. What will be the Consequence I know not. The Town of Boston, for ought I can see, must suffer Martyrdom; It must expire; And our principle Consolation is, that it dies in a noble Cause. The Cause of Truth, of Virtue, of Liberty and of Humanity: and that it will probably have a glorious Reformation, to greater Wealth, Splendor and Power than ever.”
This entire letter and hundreds of others exist in the manuscript archives of the state of Massachusetts. Nearly 250 years later, we feel the unmistakable energy and spirit, the humility and faith of the man who penned these words.
Fragments of ourselves, that’s what letters are. When we write a letter we experience a renewed sense of self — a refreshed sense of the important reality of the person to whom we are writing the letter. And, more subtly, a restoring of inner balance, and a warm revival of tenderness and beauty within us and all around.
The recent Valentine's Day cames with a tantalizing challenge to give something meaningful to the people we love. Ada Leverson, an American author, wrote: “You don’t know a woman until you have had a letter from her.”
We may feel uncertainty and awkwardness as we attempt to express things we are not accustomed to expressing in an intimate way. And men may believe that it is only women who are meant to express emotions and intimate things. But we are in good company. John Adams to Abigail Smith in 1764 wrote: “Oh my dear Girl, I thank Heaven that another fortnight will restore you to me ... my soul and Body have been thrown into disorder by your Absence ... but you who have always softened and warmed my Heart, shall restore my Benevolence as well as my Health and Tranquility of mind."
Think of the sorrow and inestimable loss if we were forbidden or curtailed from communicating our highest thoughts and deepest feelings to someone we love.
“My heart is always warm in your service,” Lady Mary Montagu wrote to her friend in 1762.
Let our hearts be warm with love’s expression and keep alive — for who knows how long — the precious spark of life and individuality that is uniquely and wonderfully our very own.
Susan Evans McCloud is author of more than 40 books and has published screenplays, a book of poetry and lyrics, including two songs in the LDS hymnbook. She has six children. She blogs at susanevansmccloud.blogspot.com.