In his great novel, Howard’s End—a book filled with characters writing letters to each other—E.M. Forster writes, “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height.” “Connection” is one of the most important aspects of human life, and written communication is one of humanity’s most powerful ways of connecting with each other. Books, letters, instructions, recipes, signs, texts, emails, tweets—all are ways of helping us transmit ideas and feelings from one person to another.
Dec. 7 was National Letter Writing Day, a celebration of old-fashioned correspondence and a fine time to connect (or re-connect) with the people that matter in our lives. In our era of instant electronic communication, writing a letter may seem quaint to young people, but our residents at Brandermill Woods are old enough to attest that letter-writing is a wonderful form of communication. Not only can it cut through the noise of the day; it can help you make a true connection with someone.
If you missed the holiday, here are four ideas for writing a letter any time this month:
We’re living in what might be the golden age of greeting cards. Visit your local drug store, and you’ll find row after row of cards of every stripe—witty, sentimental, straightforward. You can even find a wealth of cards that have an interesting image but no text, giving you full control of the message. Next time you visit a CVS or a Target, take a spin through the greeting card section and pick out something that will delight a friend. Write a short message (it can be as simple as, “Saw this and thought of you—enjoy!”), put a stamp on it and drop it in the post. You’ll make someone’s day.
Never underestimate the power of a thank-you note. Whether you send it by email or by post, taking the time to say thank-you to someone says a lot about your character, and it will mean something to the recipient. In honor of National Letter Writing Day, why not make it a handwritten note? If you have a service provider—an accountant, a landscaper, even your hairdresser—send them a quick note of thanks for all they do for you. Again, you’ll make someone’s day.
Do you have a long-lost aunt living two states away? What about an old friend from high school you recently saw on Facebook? Calling up old friends or distant relatives can be daunting for you and possibly awkward for them, but writing a letter is a great way to re-connect. Social media connections are so short as to be meaningless, and emails often demand quick replies. By sending a letter in the post, you’ll be giving the person the chance to digest your news and think about what they want to say in return.
Many great books—from Beverly Cleary’s childhood classic Dear Mr. Henshaw to Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead—take the form of letters to someone. Although these books are fiction, they give the narrators the chance to tell their stories to a specific reader—a great way to tell your story because of the intimacy and specificity of a letter. If you don’t want to send a letter to someone in particular, consider using National Letter Writing Day to write your own story. Pick a reader, write “Dear___” at the top of the page, and start telling your story. Even if you never send the letter or letters, there are many benefits to capturing your own story on the page. Who knows? You might just make your own day.