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A Life In Letters

Wax seal and old lettersWith the advancement of new technology, there is also loss. Today I mourn the demise of the letter. Yes, I know that email is faster and more efficient. I also know that you can get easily addicted to checking your phone every 10 minutes to see if someone has contacted you. Facebook has replaced the intimate chat once provided by letters with a very public façade of the personal life. Facebook and other social media have become the mask of happiness and rainbows that we wear for the world.

A few days ago an old friend, Kitty, emailed me that she was cleaning out a file cabinet and had found several of my letters. She scanned and attached two of them. And when I read them, I cried. It was a glimpse into the anticipation we held in our younger selves, and of course now, I knew how all of it had turned out.

I was punched in the emotional gut by those letters written in 1989. I’d just moved from Los Angeles to Boulder, Colorado. I was the in my thirties and in the midst of two enormous life-changing events. I’d become a college student, finishing up what I’d left behind. It was making me into a different person. AND I was falling in love with the man who would become my husband. Simultaneously my best friend, Kitty had recently given birth to a son. Her life was in a great state of change too.

The record and account of all this was documented in a series of long-distance letters in which Kitty expressed to me the fears and joys of being a first-time parent, the angst of wanting to do it right and how the ups and downs of all of that was affecting her.

I wrote about how getting a college education in my mid-thirties was giving me a sense of confidence, a sense of pride for going back and turning around something that for the longest time I didn’t believe I could fix. And then there was the tenuous narrative of my love life, words revealing the most cautious of hopes. I was in a relationship that I desperately wanted to work and feared might not, so I tiptoed around how I wrote about it. Of course looking back, I can see how much was said in what I chose not to write down.

Checking the mailbox to find a letter from Kitty brought me a rush of excitement. Her musings were a thoughtful deliberation on life, often accented by newspaper clippings and photographs from days when we were much more cavalier. I sent her short stories I’d written in school and a running commentary on my adjustment to Colorado. The letters reveal the depths of a friendship between two young women growing into their potential and purpose.

I appreciate that I can email a friend across the country and get a response in the same day, but emails are never as thoughtful as my letters once were. The anticipation of an email is more habitual than the delight of the ongoing dialogue contained in letters which were more emotionally honest. I miss that.

I am fortunate to have received many letters in my lifetime. I believe that their legacy can be found in my heart-felt love for stories. As a child traveling between divorced parents, my affection for the one I wasn’t with found expression in letters. And the connection I had from the absent parent was made up by hand printed reassurances. In my jewelry drawer, I still keep a letter from my husband, written to me one anniversary. It is a meaningful conveyance of his love and unwavering devotion to me. That he took the time to commit it to paper makes it a treasure.

When did Kitty and I stop writing letters to each other? It wasn’t a decision. It just unfolded that way. We are still in touch all of the time, but there is a sense of rush and hurry that was never in our letters. Our email sentences are shorter, and there is no longer the salutation of “Dear.” Many of our sign-offs are a promise to talk soon, knowing that the email was squeezed into a too-busy-day and that what needs to be said, what wants to be said does not exist in the paragraph on the screen.

I miss the letter. I fear that it is an art form that has met its death. I can’t imagine a title like Rilke’s Emails To A Young Poet ever gracing my bookshelf.

What about you? Have you kept letters from a friend or family member that you revisit from time to time? Do you still write letters? And like me, do you miss the delight of a letter in your mailbox? I’d like to know. Please share with me in the comment section.


Novelist, essayist, blogger, wife, dog-mommy, dancer, dreamer, grateful.

27 thoughts on “A Life In Letters

    1. I appreciate the friendly emails I get–because friends and family reaching out is always nice, but I do miss a good letter. It just seems that letters were a more intimate form of communicating. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Howard.

  1. I don’t write letters anymore, but I do send out notecards periodically. It’s not really the same though because those tend to be quick and focused on one thing (a thank you, a thinking of you, etc.). I’m not so sure I exactly miss letters, but I do miss the sense of not feeling so rushed with our communications. As you mentioned, it’s all a quick email or quick text nowadays. There’s always something else we need to be doing.

    1. Were we this busy before, or does instant communication make it easier for us to take on more, thus making “I’m so busy” the mantra for our times? Thanks for sharing, Carrie.

      1. I think it’s because we’re so caught up in the online world. Even those who aren’t on social media are on their computers a lot, googling this, emailing that. Before we had to wait on things, but like you said, it’s all instant now. We can get to more things which ends up leaving us rushed.

  2. We have lost so much by abandoning the habit of letter writing. Your post details the therapeutic and reflective value of the exercise. When my sisters and I were establishing our lives as young adults and new mothers, we wrote each other constantly. A few years ago, one of my sisters mailed me a package containing several of the letters I had written to her over the years. What a treasure trove! It was wonderful to learn about myself anew, and discover how I got to where I am today. Thank you!

    1. I so relate to your comment! The revisiting of those old letters is a gift and an appreciation to all that it took to grow into ourselves. As you say, “to learn about myself anew and discover how I got to where I am…” Wonderful. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  3. I remember those beautiful, colorful stamps that graced the letters from other countries (back when USA stamps were pretty boring), the delicate feeling of airmail paper (thin and fragile to make them lighter), and choosing stationery that would express something personal. I do appreciate the ease with which e-mail and social media can keep us up to date, and that they provide for global interaction that would otherwise be unlikely, but still experience a feeling of loss. It seems like the difference between talking with a friend on the phone or having her over for a cup of tea to catch up on things. It may still be communication, but doesn’t quite nurture the same sense of connection or permanence.

  4. I have been having a massive clear out and have found many letters that have brought tears to my eyes….mainly happy tears of fond memories. They will be kept forever me thinks!

  5. Well, it’s a dying art and habit for sure. As a kid, I loved letters and all the ephemera associated with letters– sealing wax, fun stamps and paper. Now I still find myself buying boxes of cards and fun stamps, but write so few “real” letters. Sad really. Most mail is bills or junk. I still believe in hand written thank you notes- a true sign of character. I have boxes of old letters the kids wrote from camp or my mother sent me when we lived overseas. Treasures!

    1. I had forgotten all about sealing wax. I remember having some–looked like a hard candle and once you dripped it onto the envelope you could use a stamp to make an impression in the wax. And I am totally with you on the subject of “thank you” notes. Letters tell a story when they’ve been preserved with a good box and a little appreciation. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. (and the fond memory of sealing wax!)

  6. I have a carton of love letters and journals from my young adulthood, boxed up in the basement. One rainy day, I’ll re-read them all. I write little notes in cards and a Christmas letter from the family but actual USPS letters are from a bygone era.

    1. It’s nice that you can revisit love letter and journals. It really is a bygone era and from the responses here, I see that I am not the only one missing those carefully penned treasures. Ah well, I have to answer a bunch of emails now! 😉

  7. I love letters and yes, I remember the excitement of getting them in days gone by. I’ve saved cards and letters and still send cards and almost always include a letter.

    1. You are a woman after my own heart. I have saved many cards and letters and I enjoy writing a good letter to a friend far away. I still like pretty stationary too. Thank you for stopping by today and for taking the time to comment. Cyber hugs!

  8. I have just started writing letters again. My New Years resolution was to send more letters to my friends and April was national letter writing month so I took part in a challenge to send 30 letters in 30 days. Letter writing has turned out to be one of the most rewarding past times I’ve ever had. I feel more connected to my friends and, through starting my blog about letter writing, I have made new friends. Thanks for this post, it’s great to see someone who is passionate about snail mail X

    1. What a great heart-felt project–30 letters in 30 days! Inspiring. Good luck with your new blog about letter writing. I’ll come visit for sure! Thanks for sharing.

      1. Thanks Stephanie, it has been such a great project. I would recommend it to anyone. It seemed daunting at first but before I knew it I had sent more than twenty xxx

  9. I still write letters and send notes, even to those with whom I correspond through email and Facebook. There is a joy that touches my soul when I take the time to write a note to someone dear to me. I enjoy using colored inks, stationery, envelope seals and lovely postage stamps of all kinds. It is a hobby I highly recommend! Thanks for writing about it.

    1. Yes, heart-felt joy in an snail mail letter–whether receiving or sending. I will always love pretty stationary and writing tools. Thank you for sharing your experience. Goodwill to you.

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