through some papers the other day, I found a letter from my Aunt Ellie. The
contents of the letter were insignificant, but the letter itself brought me
to tears. My aunt had written it just months before she died of cancer.
For a lot of people, that letter wouldn’t mean much. For me, however,
it represents a piece of someone I love and miss very much.
To be honest, I have every letter I have ever received from loved
ones, friends, even acquaintances, stored in my hope chest. Each one represents
a snapshot of my life—a goal realized, a painful memory, a lesson learned.
The practice of writing letters has been around for a long time.
In fact, the Bible is filled with letters—to the Romans, the Corinthians, Timothy,
Letters can be used to inform, scold, praise, entertain or endear.
The U.S. bishops write letters to presidents, policymakers and others to help
make the Church teachings and positions known. Individual bishops write letters,
too, to their people to inform and encourage them. People write letters to members
of Congress to weigh in on certain legislative issues. When a network announces
it will be canceling a popular television program, what is often the first course
of action? A letter-writing campaign.
Letters can also serve as lifelines for loved ones separated by
distance, war, employment and many other circumstances. Or they can help bridge
a gap between people who may be fighting or are estranged, and just aren’t ready
to speak face-to-face.
E-mail: Friend or Foe?
Computers and e-mail have revived letter-writing for many people.
For purists, a computer-generated letter or an e-mail is a sorry excuse for
a handwritten note delivered in one’s actual mailbox. But there is no denying
that they help people connect who might not otherwise.
For instance, people who wouldn’t think of voicing their opinion
on an issue now find it easier to speak out and send their thoughts along at
the click of the mouse, thanks to e-mail. Or someone who couldn’t imagine handwriting
a Christmas letter to everyone on his or her list now recounts the ups and downs
of the past year in fancy fonts and 12-point type (10, if you want to squeeze
It also helps keep numerous people informed about situations such
as illness, pregnancies, etc., with greater frequency and less effort than individual
notes or letters require.
Grab a Pen and Get Writing
One of my New Year’s resolutions every year is to stay in better
touch with friends and family. You may want to experiment with a similar resolution.
Here are some suggestions for getting started:
Make a list of people you would like to stay in touch with,
but haven’t. Choose one person for each month—maybe the month
of his or her birthday—and send a note or letter. One letter
a month doesn’t seem like such a daunting task.
a round-robin letter with your family or group of friends—either on paper or
via e-mail. It’s a great way for everyone to stay connected and not have to
rely on someone else to fill them in on what’s happening with so-and-so.
Make your voice heard on issues about which you feel strongly, such as education,
military actions, abortion, the death penalty and others by
writing letters to the appropriate authorities.
Oftentimes I have every intention of writing someone a brief note to say,
“Hi,” “Congratulations,” “Thinking of you,” etc., but never
seem to have all the essentials, such as notecards or paper,
stamps or envelopes. Make yourself a package containing all
the items you need for dropping someone a line.
The thought of writing a long letter may seem overwhelming with our busy
lives, but a brief note can mean just as much to someone.
Write a short note while you’re waiting to pick the kids up
from school or sports, at the doctor’s office or anywhere
else you find yourself with a few spare moments.
notes to your kids and put them in their lunch bags or book bags. For instance,
send them a note of encouragement on the day of a big test.
your husband or wife how much you love him or her by adding a brief note to
the shopping list or tucked into his wallet or her purse.
When my Aunt Ellie sent me that letter shortly before she died,
I bet she never imagined how much it would mean to me. Remember that you don’t
have to pen a novel when writing someone a letter. Just the fact that you took
the time to acknowledge that person with a note means a lot. So the next time
you can’t decide whether or not to write and say, “How’s it going?” or “Thanks,”
do it. You never know how much it might mean to that person.
Next Month: Who Was St. Valentine?