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I’m making one last pass down the letter writing series and then I’ll feel like I can let this rest. Why a letter instead of an e-mail or Facebook post?

When we rely on electronic communication, we inadvertently exclude people. My parents, for example are never going to use Facebook. If I fail to send birthday cards just because it’s less convenient for me, I’m suggesting that my convenience is more important to me than their birthdays. They already miss out on a lot of family news because of their choice. I can only make that worse by omitting a birthday card. My brothers are very sweet about sending Mom flowers for her birthday, which delights her just as much. Her favorites are daisies. I planted some this summer in hopes of sharing them if they ever proliferate. So what else can you accomplish with this more personal method of communication?

Encourage

One of my neighbors recently fell and broke a hip. She spent the next eight weeks in a nursing home, an experience that can only be described as hellish. The food was awful, the facility wasn’t clean, and she seldom got a full night of rest without interruption.

I thought about her many times during that eight weeks, but I did not visit or write. I was busy working, nursing a terrible cold, and taking vacations. I had good intentions, but life got in the way. Unfortunately, that little platitude did nothing for her. It makes me cringe to think of how abandoned and depressed she felt and how little I did to help. How hard would it have been to scrawl a few words of encouragement?

When my mother was being treated for cancer, there was a particular kind of medicine that worked particularly well with her chemotherapy: the cards and letters people sent. Every time I saw her, she shared stacks of mail that had come since my last visit. It’s impossible to estimate how much they meant to her as she recovered. She loved reviewing and sharing them with close family. To her, they were proof that she had many reasons to hang in there.

It’s easy for us to minimize the importance of words, but they can make a huge difference to someone who is sick with no end in sight. Their caretakers also need a boost. Knowing you’re loved is not a small thing.

Console

Is there any human circumstance more socially awkward than loss? It’s a sad paradox, but our discomfort with death often makes us turn away from people at a time they most need support. We fear that our words will be inadequate, inappropriate, or cause more grief; we fear things that are impossible to name.

It can be especially difficult to offer condolences to people we don’t know that well. How should we approach them? For these situations, there is no better method of acknowledgement than a personal note that offers all parties the benefit of carefully chosen words. After you’ve written a sympathy card, you may find it easier to express your sorrow face to face.

Appreciate

No man is an island. Our friends and family keep us going. Whether it’s the friend who helps us get a job or the neighbor who transports our kids after school, none of us could do without each other. And we usually say so. How can we make those spoken thank yous more meaningful? Take the time to put that gratitude in writing. It means a lot to people. It tells them we don’t take them for granted.

Think about the thank you notes you’ve received for gifts, parties, and favors you’ve given. Isn’t it affirming to believe that the effort and resources you’ve invested in people is recognized as a blessing? We all need to know that we matter.

Congratulate

Having people recognize our accomplishments validates our lives. I will never forget the notes I received in junior high and high school after someone had seen my name in the newspaper for some school-related thing. People clipped the articles and tucked them inside their notes of congratulations. I felt like a rising star every time this happened.

When we take the time to congratulate people for their achievements, their marriages, their new jobs, or their grades, we help them soar even higher. There is nothing like a friend that can be truly happy for us during good times. This is how we know we are loved.

Leave a legacy

Couldn’t you do all these things on Facebook or by e-mail? Well, of course you can. But here’s the thing: when you bring this human touch to your personal correspondence, you’ve signaled your belief that electronic messages aren’t quite good enough for your recipient. Only the best will do. The rareness of personal notes makes them ever more precious.

There’s something else we all lose when all personal correspondence goes digital. Remember those clippings I received in junior high? I still have them. I’ve saved them in scrapbooks along with precious letters from my Mom, old boyfriends, colleagues and friends. They’ve become an archive of my life in a way that Facebook never can.

On a Saturday afternoon, I can pull that scrapbook out of the bottom drawer in my dresser and read a note of encouragement from my eighth grade English teacher—Mrs. Bauer’s red ink, prodding me on. I see the arc of my life from then to now in the words of people who cared.

Words are important. The notes you write today could become part of someone’s story. What could be more meaningful than that? Truthfully speaking, I think about writing more notes than I actually write. I can do so much better. What about you?

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.