The Art of Letter-Writing

There are few things that bring light to my day like a good letter. When I was little, I had two pen pals – my cousin who lived in northern Maine and my neighbor’s granddaughter who lived down in Virginia. We were very dedicated little writers; I remember getting envelopes stuffed to the brim with things like stickers, little plastic toys, homemade bookmarks.

I keep all of them in my great-grandfather’s old briefcase, the one with the gold clasps.

The one on the bottom has all my old manuscripts – all the horrible plays and short stories I wrote before I became self-conscious. The middle one is my great-grandfather’s, the leather handle almost broken off.

Almost every letter I’ve ever received (along with birthday cards, letters from my sponsor child in India, little notes I used to pass in class) is stuffed in.

The top one holds my letter-writing things: stationery, cards, my old wax and stamp kit, my address book (yes, I have an address book).

I probably never would’ve stopped writing to them, but middle school does different things to people.

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Letter-writing is very personal. It’s like a journal, only in some ways, it’s far more vulnerable. You’re opening your thoughts, your life, to someone else, trusting him or her to guard it, to read a part of you without judgment.

It’s personal, and yet there are so many beautiful, meaningful letters to read. My uncle told me about this website (“Catherine, you’d love this.”), Letters of Note, and I’ve poured over it.Steinbeck’s letter to his son about love is one of my favorites – honest, straight-forward, understanding, loving.

And while my letters will most likely never be read by anyone other than the intended recipient, I still like the idea that I join a long line of people before me. Thinkers, lovers, readers, writers, artists, theologians. People who stopped, saw the beauty around them, and then made that beauty palpable for those they loved.

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This week I got a letter from my world-traveling friend. I read it once, twice, disbelieving of the beauty of my friend’s artistry, both in word and paint.

Switzerland is far away, and even though I miss my friend dearly, letters like this help make up for it.

4 thoughts on “The Art of Letter-Writing

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