Time to Write a Letter: Mailboxes, Sausalito, CA. Photo by Tibby Storey

While most of us are still staying at home, helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19, isn’t it time to write a letter? 

Teleworking requires concentration and organization.  Job-hunting, caring for children without the usual support systems, grocery shopping and cooking at home, and fitting in time for exercise can be exhausting.  But when you are taking a break, consider using the time to write a letter.  It is good practice for your writing skills, provides an alternative to electronic communications, and a letter is guaranteed to bring satisfaction to the recipient. 

I am not alone in appreciating the value of a written letter, especially while sheltering during a pandemic.  Feature stories about letter writing seem to be popping up with greater frequency in the media.  Here are a few well worth reading; click on the links to get the full story.  Many of these were brought to my attention by Social Correspondence readers, credited at the end of this post.

Never too young to write a letter

Nancy Davis Kho wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle about the value of showing gratitude through letters.  “According to studies on the science of happiness from research centers like UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, that’s exactly how writing these thank-you letters works:  It can boost the mood of the writer at least as much as it does the recipient.

“Those of us experiencing a serious uptick in our email correspondence right now – it seems all it took for us to re-embrace the epistolary form was a global pandemic – are freshly acquainted with the clever breeziness, the missives framed as “just checking in,” from people we once knew far better than we do now.”  This is a quote from Megan O’Grady, writing for The New York Times, about the implied voyeurism of reading a collection of literary letters.  In their letters of old, our heroes and heroines reveal far more about themselves than perhaps they intended.

“There’s nothing nicer than opening the mailbox and seeing something friendly, something that’s not a bill,” quoted Julie Beck in her column in The Atlantic, The Friendship Files. In this story, she describes the 40-year friendship between two women, Belinda in England and Julie in Canada, who met 40 years earlier on a ferry in Toronto.  They stay in touch through letters.  In their interview with Beck, Belinda notes why it is special to receive a written letter: “Picking them up from the floor, actually opening the envelope, looking at the stamp, and saving the stamp. Feeling the paper and seeing the written word—it’s everything. I still read books. I don’t have a Kindle. I like to physically touch things.”

And then there is this tribute to mothers everywhere, from The Daily Memphian (TN): “My Mom is the best letter-writer I have ever known.  Mom has other fine qualities, certainly.  She’s a doctor who raised nine kids. She was president of the school board, took in three international exchange students for a full year, helped us raise every kind of animal you can possibly imagine (including a monkey, two raccoons and a woodchuck), and rode Arabian horses until she was nearly 90 years old.  But she wrote as many letters as some of us write text messages. For the longest time, she wrote each of her nine kids a letter a week. She wrote her parents when they were still around, and her four sisters, and her 32 grandchildren (occasionally), and her friends, and random people she happened to meet along the way.” 

Letter writing anecdotes also come to me from direct sources.  Elise P. recently made this offer on Facebook: “Anyone want me to write them a letter?”  So many people responded that a later post stated: “I am tickled so many people want letters! Am writing one a day so forgive any delay.”

The following came from Jane in St. Paul, MN, who wrote: “A former student, a music teacher, and his family have lived abroad for 3 1/2 years, first in the Netherlands and now in Japan.  We visited his young family – Lennie, his wife Tamara (also a teacher), and 8-year-old son Franklin -in the Netherlands a couple of years ago.  We received a letter from him the other day that included a paragraph that will warm your heart.  “We started a family routine this year of sitting down after dinner to write letters to friends and loved ones.  Perhaps letter writing is a lost art, but we hope Franklin can learn that putting in a little time and effort to reach out through pen and paper can brighten someone else’s day.”

Please click on the links above to read each delightful story. Then consider, wouldn’t this weekend be a perfect time to write a letter?

Many thanks to Anne R., San Francisco, CA; Cathy S., Collierville, TN; Elise P., Berkeley, CA; Jane F., St. Paul, MN; and Murray S., San Francisco for sharing these stories, which illustrate the importance of writing letters.  

The Endangered Art of Letter Writing by Julie Beck.  The Atlantic, May 1, 2020.

For This Mother’s Day, Letters (37 of Them!) from Mom by Geoff Calkins.  The Daily Memphian, May 10, 2020

Gratitude: Thank Someone Who Helped You by Nancy Davis Kho.  San Francisco Chronicle, May 17, 2020

What do Letters Reveal About the Creative Mind by Megan O’Grady.  The New York Times, April 17, 2020

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