Monday 19 August 2019

The art of letter writing may be the food for the soul you're missing

Mind matters

Letter writing is a passing tradition as fewer and fewer communications are by letter now
Letter writing is a passing tradition as fewer and fewer communications are by letter now

Patricia Casey

Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls; for, thus friends absent speak - John Donne. Remember the first time, as a child, when you received a letter or card? The mere sight of your name on the envelope filled you with a sense of pride and delight. You realised that you had your place in the world, a person important enough to have your own address and to be receiving a letter.

Opening the envelope, perhaps you were filled with a mixture of anticipation, curiosity and maybe even, fear.

What could it possibly contain? Who has taken the time to write to me? Or am I about to open exam results?

We knew for sure that for a few moments we were part of the writer's history and we were held briefly in their thoughts as they complied their missive. That knowledge made it feel special.

I think we can all remember writing those special letters too - a thank you note for a birthday present, a card with a personal message at Christmas to friends or family abroad, the excitement and romance of a teenage love letter or, most difficult of all, a letter of sympathy or apology.

Yet this is a passing tradition as fewer and fewer communications are by letter now. Instead the beautifully and delicately scripted pieces have been replaced by the 140 characters of Twitter.

In what has been a difficult year for many as the new political landscape reshaped itself in a manner unknown for decades, the personal touch has never been more in demand or valued. A simple, yet thoughtful sentiment is all it can take to brighten up someone's day. A form of emotional capital often overlooked in the modern day.

There are many modes of communication that have been developed over the centuries, from letters sent by pigeon to Skyping online, we have found more and more sophisticated methods of maintaining emotional contact.

Yet more recent developments are less personal and more expressively remote than those of former times. It is difficult to inject emotion as each sentence is terse, verbally minimalist, and rushed. Normally, the words used are not chosen carefully.

It's not that people avoid contact now, after all, there is Facebook and Twitter and a myriad of other social networks. And texting is an unassailable facility that even 80-year-olds are using with tremendous ease. Now might be the time for social media such as Twitter to adjust to the new requirements for sensitivity to people's disappointments and uncertainties and become less strident and demeaning.

Throughout history there have been many prolific letter-writers - Napoleon, Robert Browning, Jacqueline Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, George Orwell, Beethoven and Oscar Wilde. Imagine Robert Browning texting his first letter to Elizabeth Barrett, in which he declares his admiration for her poetry - it would read: "So n2 me has it gon, n prt of me has it bcum, dis gr8 livin potry of urs, nt a flowr of wich bt tuk rut n grw".

As we approach Christmas, some of you may be tempted to send a 'Round Robin' message to all the contact numbers on your mobile phone. But this would be the ultimate atomisation from those we ought to care about. There is nothing sensitive, comforting or personal in "Happy Xmas, C U sn BW P".

Many of us feel hassled by having to send Christmas cards, but our reticence may also stem from the guilty knowledge that we are not diligent enough at keeping in contact with those who were once so important in our lives. Some may question the value of the card and even consider dropping this tradition.

Instead of annoyance and a bah! humbug attitude, we should make it a priority to take a few moments to re-establish old and develop new relationships.

Settle down comfortably with pen and cards, and a cup of tea accompanied by Handel's Messiah in the background. Enjoy this special part of Christmas. Make time to write your personal greetings. This really is a huge part of the spirit of Christmas and if you remain to be convinced, think of the warmth of sound as the cards drop on the hall floor and remember how you enjoy opening the envelopes and reading the messages inside.

Or imagine the bleakness of an empty letter box if all your friends and family decided they too just didn't have the time.

So it may be the only time in the year you contact an old friend or distant relative, but it keeps the line of communication open and that regular if occasional contact could be all that is required to rekindle a lost friendship.

Enjoy writing your cards, enjoy receiving them.

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