I recently lamented the fact that I don't get many letters these days. Even as I glance apprehensively at the growing number of unopened emails in my inbox, and hear the incessant beep announcing the arrival of another text or Facebook message, I am sorely tempted to unplug and hunt for a crisp piece of parchment and my favourite pen.
Oh, to write a letter. To "sit down, pull out a piece of paper, and think about someone the whole way through . . . with intention", as Hannah Brencher says in her recent TED Talk, is a pleasure that satiates a need to recognize and be recognized for who we uniquely are to one another.
Many defining moments, from biblical times to present day, have been communicated through letters. The Pauline epistles address important issues of concern among early Christian communities. Napoleon's love letters to Josephine chronicle his change in demeanour and then military strategy when he learns of her betrayal. The standard "Dear John" letter declares the end of a relationship. An acceptance letter can mean the start of an educational journey or a fulfilling career.
I still read fondly the letters, preserved from my Junior High School days, that were exchanged weekly between my best friend and I. We laughed at our own wit, and revelled in finding unique delivery methods. We took comfort in the trust we had for each other, knowing that our written secrets would never go beyond the page. When my birthday draws near, I still delight that I can count on my grandparents to send me loving correspondence. Letters can preserve a moment in life, a defining character trait, a momentous decision.
Texts are deleted or forgotten in days or weeks, but you can't delete the feelings evoked or the sentiment rediscovered in a treasured letter from a loved one. When we commit ink to parchment, we leave a legacy of fear, triumph, or banal exchange that is intensely personal to us.
Letters evoke one of the most delightful aspects of the human condition: anticipation. Anticipation encapsulates infinite potential and allows us to revel in wonder. We wait, we ponder, and we hope our message is heard. This experience is so sharply contrasted to the efficiency of modern day messaging and its inherent impulsivity. To savour a letter is to bask in the certitude of the feel of the paper in our hands, the colour of our ink—the script that identifies a person to us. Every stroke of the pen, curve of the letter embodies the author's very character.
This is what makes Brencher's letter writing initiative so inspiring; it is fueled by love, and the desire to express this love to complete strangers. Hannah Brencher's call to arms for people to "love letter their world and lift up strangers with their words" embodies the second greatest commandment—to love your neighbour. Hannah, I agree with you, the world does need more love letters.