Two events last month have reminded me of something from my younger days that was so common as to escape notice: receiving written letters, thank you notes, or invitations in the mail. Today, to receive any of these is cause for pause. Letters are e-mails, thank you notes are usually Day Spring e-mail cards, and Evite handles almost all invitations to parties or special happenings.
What brought this to mind was the release of a book by former President George H.W. Bush (the senior one). It is simply hundreds of pages of letters he wrote to his parents during the war, his wife to be, and all the world leaders or people he interacted with during his long political career. The fascinating part is the content: the writings are centered on his love and empathy for others, his deepening and sustaining friendships through personal communication, and his creative side. You may or may not agree with his politics, but this book is as far from political as one can travel. It is about a caring, intelligent, sensitive man who used words and letters to touch others.
The second thing that promoted this post were two thank you notes from dear friends. Betty and I had an opportunity to help them with a party that was important to them. What we did was both fun and allowed us to do something for them. Within days both husband and wife sent us handwritten thank you notes that were personal and meaningful. An e-mail or Hallmark card wouldn't have been the same.
My mom made it quite clear to me that as soon as I was able to hold a pen I was expected to send thank you notes after every Christmas and birthday. Invitations were to be hand-written by me. Any gift, for any reason, triggered a note. I have slipped over the last few years, though Betty and I still have a drawer full of thank you, sympathy, or thinking of you cards. I must admit, though, Day Springs sees a lot of activity from me.
Writing letters is no longer part of my experience, either writing or receiving, except to and from inmates I work with through prison ministry. Part of the reason is quite simple: I have very few friends anymore that don't live here. I've lost contact with almost everyone else, so there is almost no one for me to write to.
Thinking back to the post of last month about the U.S. Postal Service, this lack of writing and mailing is a major reason that organization is fighting for its life. Only junk mail, magazines (another hurting segment), and Netflix discs find their way into my mailbox. Millions of first class pieces of mail aren't written anymore and bills arrive electronically, so the post office is in trouble.
No one needs to remind us that texting, Facebooking, Pinteresting, or Tweeting are the preferred way to communicate by everyone under 40, and many over that age. Cursive writing, proper spelling and grammar are barely taught in school anymore. Long form writing is pretty much confined to blogs, and rough drafts of graduate thesis papers, and book writing. Of course, virtually all of that writing is done on a computer so spelling and grammar checkers can catch mistakes and the end result can be e-mailed to someone else as an attachment. Actually putting pen to paper doesn't happen.
I am not an old curmudgeon saying we should all go back to the old ways. There would be no Satisfying Retirement blog if I wrote everything out first on a yellow legal pad. I love my spell checker and the ability to write faster and (hopefully) better. But, there are times when I long for the days of hand-written thank you notes and the personal letter that took time and effort to craft.
No great message here, just a sense of loss when I realize letter writing and thank you notes are likely to disappear completely with our generation.
Note: We are on our nearly month-long RV trip through New Mexico and Texas. That means a little slower response to comments. But, never fear. My trusty laptop and I are out there somewhere looking for a WiFi signal to stay in touch.
Friday I will have an update on our trip so far, complete with photos from Betty.