We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion, and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverable for ourselves and for others.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
On one of my closet shelves rests a large, floral hat box, filled with sentimental letters and cards from special people who have intersected my life through the years. Every time I clean my closet or reorganize it, I am tempted to sift through the box and discard items, questioning the validity of such keepsakes. The sifting ends quickly as I get lost in the moment and am reminded of why these personal pieces of history made it into my hatbox to begin with. Each sentiment provides me an opportunity to walk down memory lane and recount sweet moments which I tucked away, almost forgotten, until I am once again reminded.
Being a huge fan of letter writing, I find myself drawn to writing tools, cards and stationery. In this age of rapid growing technology, letter writing has become almost exclusively mechanical, tailored, goal driven and computerized. The expressive, free flowing and artful nature of personal letter writing is quickly becoming a dying contribution to everyday life. While I understand the need for and even practice time management and multi-tasking in order to remain ahead of all the chaos of life, there are irreplaceable, life altering benefits to making time for letter writing.
1. Letter writing attaches reality to thoughts.
Thoughts are fleeting, and recording them brings about reality which may never have
occurred otherwise. Life is directed, enhanced, stilled, and beauty is created by the
reality of thoughts. Problems are identified and solved, and life moves forward when
thoughts are allowed to transition from our mind to the written letter. We have all
experienced those moments when we wish we would have expressed a sentiment to
someone, and often, doing so by letter form is a profound way to share such a
thought. What begins in writing ends in some one’s reality.
2. Letter writing allows emotions to be validated and expressed.
Emotions cannot always be trusted and are often hidden, tucked away or ignored.
A written letter provides the opportunity to identify and take ownership of and
express these emotions. Life takes shape, and we gain a deeper understanding of
ourselves and others, and how our emotions influence others. Understanding the
connections between what we are feeling, and in turn taking the time and effort
to express this to others orchestrates life in a richer and fuller manner. To quote a
line from one of my favorite movies, “It should at least start by being personal.” In
a world filled with traffic from all directions, “personal” is a much sought after
3. Letter writing creates a record of life.
There is great value for generations who come after us to have knowledge of our life.
Written letters chronicle family, events, celebrations and tragedies. Ties between
generations add value to a life and help us to understand our own journey. These
letters offer an accounting of reality unknown to those who come after us, and add a
sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves and our own existence. Many
questions can be answered and paths can be directed through life recorded in written
letters. Forgotten moments soon become sweet remembrances, and life as a whole
becomes a richer, fuller tapestry.
4. Letter writing binds hearts.
Relationships take much effort from all involved, and taking the time express
ourselves through letters promotes the bond of affection. Growth becomes a
matter of necessity, and difficulty becomes a means to change as connections are
made through the written letter. Conflicts can be thoughtfully resolved and hearts
find lasting healing as bonds are strengthened by the commitment to press through
difficulties. Deep affections can be reinforced through written encouragements and
heartfelt, meaningful sentiments allowed to be expressed instead of tucked away
for a later time. The lifelong gift this expression provides to others is immeasurable.
5. Letter writing provides solitary escape.
In a world filled with activity, instant gratification and chaos, the need for solitude is
often a neglected necessity to life. Taking time out of our busy schedule for letter
writing allows our mind and body and emotions to connect and relax. Connecting
with ourselves in this solitary manner makes us aware of the emotions our thoughts
are creating and in turn helps us discover more about how we think and feel. Stress
can be released and perspective can be re-established during this time of expression.
Such a simple private moment is an invitation to an elevated experience of self
awareness and genuine gratitude for our life. Letter writing is a gift and gives
us permission to be at home with ourselves.
Suddenly, I have the urge to pull out my hat box once again, but this time the temptation to discard is replaced by the need to reconnect with the many beautiful moments and people of my life, too often forgotten. When I am finished, I think I will tuck myself into my favorite quiet spot where my desk is filled with all the wonderful tools for letter writing. It is time to spend some time filling someone else’s hatbox!
“Please write again soon. Though my own life is filled with activity, letters encourage momentary escape into others lives and I come back to my own with greater contentment.”
Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey