Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Handwritten Letter

Remember when you were a kid and you wrote notes to your friends? The notes started out simple in elementary school with "Do you like me? Check yes or no." Then in middle and high school, they graduated to long, gossipy letters you passed across the aisle when the teacher wasn't looking. Maybe you wrote love letters to your significant other.

Can you remember the last time you received a handwritten letter?

I came home from running errands today to find a package on my doorstep. It arrived from Iraq where my bff, Pam, is serving. Inside, I found a totally cool, blinged-out camel figurine and a five page handwritten letter. The camel cracked me up after the recent email pic she sent of two camels getting it on. The figurine now occupies a place of honor in my family room, but the real treasure was the letter.

There's something intensely personal about reading a friend's words in her own handwriting. Pam's voice came through in that letter loud and clear. The double underlines under several words, the hole she punched in the paper when dotting an exclamation point, the distinctive curl of her script...the sum total of those things made the letter a visceral experience. It was like having a little piece of her there with me.

I lost my mom six years ago to breast cancer. Every now and again I find a note or recipe written in her hand. It always makes my heart hitch just a little to find an unexpected piece of her. The birthday card in which she wrote, "I'm proud of you," is priceless. I read that handwritten note whenever I need her encouragement.

We live in an age in which it is so much easier to whip off an email message to someone than to write a note, and most of the time that really is the most practical form of communication. Pam and I email regularly...silly jokes, quick notes to share something cool that happened, catching up on gossip...but none of those notes carried the emotional punch of that handwritten letter. Maybe it was because I could physically touch it. Maybe it was because of the time she took to write it. Maybe it was because the content of the letter was more personal. You can be more open when you're not worried about something bouncing electronically through cyberspace. Probably it was all of those things.

The euphoria of my mail call lasted all day. The best thank you I can give her is to answer her handwritten letter with one of my own.

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