I’ve read a few articles about how and why the art of letter-writing is diminishing, and while I would point out that as technology changes in our day-to-day life our artistic expressions change not diminish, I will say some valid points have been made. Younger generations are used to emails and texts, and think that the USPS is for Christmas cards and junk mail. We tell people we love them many ways, and while I agree that “luv u” in a text does not have the impact of a scripted “I love you” at the end of a letter, I think there are other reasons to take the time to write it all out. By hand, if possible.
Remember when I talked a little bit about Hermes and Hestia? (See “Thresholds”…if interested.) Hermes is out in the world, concerned with helping us transmit data and communicate. Hermes isn’t concerned about content: he just wants to get it out there. Hermes’ counterpart in the Olympiad is Hestia, the protector of hearth and home. She protects that which insulates us, for example not just the physical construct of a home, but the psychological protection of one. She represents not the breadth of our world, but the depth of the relationships and places that formed our understanding of ourselves and our culture.
My father wrote me wonderful letters. He wrote me postcards from wherever he travelled as I was growing up, and they were always loving, and almost always hysterically funny. The best thing he did for me in college (besides paying for it…thanks, Daddy!) was write me letters. Wonderful letters. Pensive, humorous, affectionate, and deeply personal, in the sense that his words showed how well he knew me. And there are many. But here are some of my favorite quotes from letters my father has written me over the years:
Above: This is a postcard my father sent me from Williamsburg; I was about 8. He wrote: This is one of the most interesting shops in Williamsburg. Here they make puppy-dogs out of old violin, guitars, and so on. You can see one of the finished dogs on the floor. See you soon!
Here are some more:
- (Card from him when I was out of college:) My Dearest Lizzie—We are on a train headed south from Seattle to Portland. Out the window I see Mount Rainier rising like some outrageously good idea and shining white and pink in the afternoon sun. I think of you, and I think of love.
- (21st birthday…he wrote me a poem; here are some excerpts:) You’ve grown and grown as if growing were some obligation/You took on—or out of fear–or out of a joy we older people have forgot/….Keep growing E/And don’t lose the ribbons of a girl somewhere along the way/You always looked lovely in ribbons.
- (25th birthday…same thing:) Just missing half my age/She stumbles into 25/All eyes for the surprise/…No matter what, I am for you/Choose as you choose, do as you do./Just take my hand when day is done/You’ll always be my little one.
- (A letter when I started teaching:) Happy Birthday, Elizabeth. Once more I write it—and I wish you a happy day, every day. Your teaching goes far beyond the classroom. You have taught me lessons in love, and support, and trust that I could not have learned from anyone else, which is to say that I would not have learned them at all.
Can you imagine how I felt, receiving these words in the mail? Perhaps you know, this eternal gift of words that can be unfolded and rediscovered. And perhaps the younger generations aren’t not writing letters because they’re lazy, as some have suggested. Most grew up not exposed to the joy that comes from knowing that someone out there wasn’t doing anything else, but sitting down and writing to you. If it’s handwritten, it’s a double joy, because as the words were being written, maybe, just maybe, they weren’t also answering email or watching TV. Learn to bring Hestia to your messages, and every now and then, write a letter to someone you love.
Stamps are 49 cents, last time I checked, but buy some “Forever Stamps,” and that way when the cost has gone up to about $5, you still can make the power of your words come from the words themselves, and not how much it cost to send them.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. Thanks for the letters. I love you, like any daughter has ever loved a father, in the best possible way.
Curiously, and ironically, the blog seems to have filled a void that I’m not sure existed prior to the proliferation of the Web. (notice the distinction between the Web and the Internet here. The Web is unifying and an entity.) But, to write some ideas, thoughts, opinions, without a specific audience is another facet of freedom of expression that can also explain the drop in popularity of letter writing. Perhaps a cultural reflection as people retreat from each other. First, physical retreat, then communicatively, through texting, voice mail and Facebook, which is a little ironic in itself. Suppose I write an idea on the wall? Will anybody read it? Do I care about feedback?
What a beautiful tribute…you are a precious gift to your parents and the world!