A hand-written note is one of those things that can stop me in my tracks and make me slow down for just a moment – It is at once antiquated and timely. And no other time of year gives us as many opportunities to write out a card to someone as this holiday season does.
My mom instilled this practice in me as a child. The weeks following Christmas and my birthday were for hand-writing thank you cards. I think I viewed it as one of those odd things that I dreaded on some level because it added to my list of things to do, but I also looked forward to it because I thought that the expression of gratitude and the connection it could create were meaningful.
I still write out thank you cards each Winter, thanks to my mom.
When my wife and I were first dating, we had to spend three months apart from each other. I thought that as I got older it wouldn’t seem like such a struggle, but I’m older now and it still feels like a freaking long time and no one could pay me enough to do it again.
To make it through our time apart, I decided to fill a journal with letters to Willow. I wrote her one letter each day so that by the end, I could give her something that would tangibly show how much she meant to me and how much I had thought of her during our time apart.
I could have typed them out and made a book, but it wouldn’t have been the same. Except for “You’ve Got Mail,” every romantic story relies on ink and paper, so ours would too.
Hand-writing a letter tells the recipient more than just what is actually written down on the paper. It tells them that you value them enough to go through the extra time and inconvenience (because it is inconvenient) and that you want to give them a little bright spot in their day where they can pause for a moment and enjoy one of the simpler pleasures of life.
My Aunt is an all-star when it comes to sending postcards. When I was in college, If there was a postcard in my mailbox, I knew exactly who it was from. She would send one from her road-trip to South Carolina or one from the local shop in town since it’s always nice to be reminded of home.
She wouldn’t write a lot on those postcards (you’ve only got room for about 11 words anyways), but the action spoke louder than anything she could have said. I knew that she was thinking of me and that she cared enough about me to let me know it – those things make a difference in a person’s life.
Like a sweater cuts the cold, a simple caring gesture can dispel the slow accumulation of loneliness.
My dad writes in all caps – like an architect. When I was a kid, I remember thinking it was so messy, but so cool and confident too – dads have that effect on their little ones (Imbuing the ordinary with a special allure), so I am grateful that mine used his position in my life with care and integrity.
He gave me a book for my 13th birthday as a coming-of-age sort of gift. On the inside cover, he wrote a message about being proud of who I was becoming. You can’t underestimate the weight that it carries in a young person’s life to see those words written about them.
I still have the book and I still see his inscription from time to time – somehow it still affects me just like it did when I was 13.
When I graduated from high school, I decided to give every classmate a copy of Love Does by Bob Goff. I wrote a message to each person on the inside cover either expressing gratitude for our friendship or giving some word of encouragement about the unique gifts that they had as they began the next part of their journey into adulthood.
Thankfully I only had 28 classmates, otherwise I would have had to start this little exercise in March to finish on time.
At any rate, it still took a good amount of time to find the words I wanted to say to each person I had gone through the last four years of life with, but I wouldn’t change it. Sitting down to address each person as an individual, gave me a level of understanding and compassion for them that would have been hard to achieve any other way. It humanized our relationship and created a bond that recognized where we had been and the separate ways we would all soon be going.
I am not the most eloquent speaker yet, so for the really important moments – the ones where I want to get the words right – I am grateful for the written word and I am grateful for everything that it communicates.