The Harbinger Online

The Art of Writing a Letter

My family doesn’t ever get rid of anything.  There are shelves full of family memories: three-ring binders full of letters, family movies, college diplomas. My grandma even has an entire room in her house dubbed the “archive room.” Nothing gets thrown out.

Most people might find this to be an illness or just simply crazy. And at times I feel the same way. However, there are the times when I feel fortunate to have it all, like when I hold the letters and know that my ancestors held that very piece of paper in 1910. I step back and look at the letters from my great-great-great uncle to his parents from the battlefields of World War I. Or possibly the home videos of my grandma as a little girl. Or the countless photo albums of my ancestors. Some people don’t even know their great grandparent’s names.

The letters, in particular, are something that I’ve loved to look at. I admit, I can’t read them because I have issues with cursive, but there is something wonderful about having my grandma read them to me at our farm or on road trips. The words that my family has written over the years come alive once more. Hopefully I will have them to show to my grandchildren.

The only problem is they will have none from me.

We hear it all the time, whether it is from our parents, teachers or anyone over the age of 60: “Kids these days are just losing all forms of true communication.” I’d like to go on record and clump myself in the same group as these so-called curmudgeons.

Most youth today have lost the art of writing a letter. It’s as simple as that.

I’m fully aware that people consider writing a letter to be something of the past. It’s obvious when I open my mailbox and the only thing in there are college postcards, coupons and bills of some sort. I’m even too old now to receive an invitation to a friend’s birthday party. But, to me, there is still something magical about a letter.

What I love about getting a letter is you can feel the sincerity of a letter when you open the envelope and unfold the paper. A letter is thought out. The words are carefully chosen. It takes time to sit down, get out the pen and paper and write. A letter simply isn’t a text. They aren’t limited to 140 characters. Many of the letters I value have more like 2,000.

A few of my favorite family letters come from my great-aunt Eleanor. A  graduate student at George Washington University in 1930, she always did exactly what her mother wouldn’t approve of. Her mother, Luella, was a traditionalist. She believed a lady was in bed by 10, never out on a Sunday night and the boys, well, they had to be approved by the parents. One weekend Eleanor decided she wanted to go visit some gentlemen friends in upstate New York. Since she knew her mother wouldn’t approve,  she mailed the letter as she  was on her way to the bus station to leave.

Because of the letters, I know my aunt Eleanor. I have a connection that my posterity won’t possess. My aunt Eleanor knew the art of writing a letter.

But I’m not sure I can say that about myself.

I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know the last time I sat down, wrote a letter, stamped it and put it in the mailbox. I’ve gotten stuck in the 21st century ways. When I want to say happy birthday, I use Facebook. When I want to make plans, I text. When I want the whole world to know all of my problems, I use Twitter (actually that’s not true, but way too many people do that).

Even though I love a good letter, I also love to text. I can’t imagine my life without a phone. Part of this, obviously, is because I’m simply used to it.  I don’t have to write a letter to make plans, that may take days. However, the fact that it would take days to plan something makes the time people spend together more meaningful.

I can have a four hour conversation with someone over text, but that isn’t the same as a face-to-face conversation. People have lost the art of true communication. It’s hard for people to walk up to someone to say “hi.” We have to check their Twitter feed or Facebook stalk them first. When did it become OK to do a background check on everyone you meet?

It’s obvious people don’t have a problem bashing someone on the internet. They do it everyday. But would they say it in a letter? Would they say it to their face? You know a person is going to read a letter, so you have to think about your words before you send it. Or in a simple conversation, people wouldn’t be blatantly mean. Maybe in “Mean Girls” they would, but not in real life.

Writing letters and having conversations can be considered an art. Some people are naturally good at it, some are not. And I’m most certainly not saying that back when letters were the only option that everyone was nice, or even good at it. Some were mean, and some just plain couldn’t communicate. But in a day in age where everything is so fast-paced, a letter seems much more thought out and sincere.

So, the next time you want to truly communicate with someone, consider a letter. Just because you have a fancy iPhone where you can have conversations with 10 people at once doesn’t mean you have to. Think of something my mom always says, “The beauty of technology is you can use everything invented before your time.”

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Jennifer Rorie

Jennifer is a senior at Shawnee Mission East. She enjoys country music, cowboy boots and cowboys. Mainly the last one. She is also a vital member of the Broadcasting Dream Team. Read Full »

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