One of my earliest, fondest memories is receiving a letter from my great-aunt and great-uncle. They lived in the United Kingdom and were not overly fond of technology, at least as far as I could recall. They said the simple things someone says to unfamiliar family members: How’s school, how’s life, hope you’re well, come visit soon. It was simple, but it was in their handwriting. Reading that letter gave me a connection to my dad’s side of the family, a majority of whom I had never met. From that moment forward, I made every effort to give or send as many handwritten notes as possible – in gifts, letters or random notes to my dad before he left for work.
The history of letter writing is a rich one, ranging from romantic war correspondences to simple reminders to swing by the grocery store. Books of handwritten love letters have been compiled from various time periods, and stand as testaments to the feasibility of long-distance relationships. Writing by hand is a way of cementing memories, as numerous studies have shown. Why would sentimental memories be affected any differently? I began writing letters to myself, and to my dad shortly after he passed away. It solidified what I could remember of him – and us – and helped me work through some problems that arose following his death. The act of writing something down, seeing it on solid paper and acknowledging that what was happening was real and couldn’t be deleted at the touch of a button was satisfying.
Studies done by Georgetown University have found evidence to link expressive writing to improvement in the attitudes of cancer patients – a study that I think could reasonably apply to other difficulties in life, as well. If those expressive writings happen to look like a letter, from which you can receive comfort and advice from a friend or family member, why not?
Handwritten letters can be more intimate than electronic or even verbal forms of communication. For one, there is more effort required to get a posted letter to someone. Stamps have to be bought, addresses collected and letters posted. You can even go the extra mile by finding personalized stationery. Emails are much easier – and faster – to send, which makes them more practical, but less personal. Alternatively, physical letters can be stored in a desk or an attic and felt, much in the way that a favorite toy or blanket can be felt.
But more than that, letters allow you to be in the room with the reader. Your handwriting is there, your scent – imagined or not – is there, something that you’ve physically held and written on is there. Letter writing is more than just sending words, it’s a way of being with someone that is too far to speak to in person. For the reader, it’s an insight into your consciousness, where you can exist in a mental space together even if you’re a continent apart. For the writer, it’s an opportunity to think about your life, to think about what first comes into your head when you want to tell someone something.
My junior year of high school, my language teacher handed out an assignment on how to write a letter. The process involved sitting down at a table, any table, and writing down whatever came to mind, whether it was what you did that day or a decision you had been mulling over. You could write to tell the person that you’ve been thinking about them or how you forgot about a meeting and had to run there. The important thing is taking the time to write a piece of yourself onto paper and send it.
Yours truly, Lindsay Bribiescas