You do it everyday but Sunday. It's an ingrained part of your life, as subconscious a daily act as brewing a fresh pot of coffee or setting the time on the alarm clock. I'm talking about bringing in the daily mail, but it is an exercise that has changed dramatically over the past decade or so, and in doing so a great slice of daily American life has been lost, possibly forever.
One component of the daily mail haul has been conspicuous in its absence -- the handwritten letter. For many of you, just reading that phrase should have called forth a bevy of memories. Thoughts of notes from grandparents sent when you were a child or from lovers when you were separated by miles are part of the tapestry that is woven around most of us born in the middle to late part of the last century.
For anyone born in the 1980s or later, handwritten letters are as foreign as slide rules and teletypes. Those are the generations that put the word instant in front of messaging, and in doing so demoted the pedestrian handwritten letter to the dusty archives in the ever-evolving great American museum of communication.
However, newer doesn't necessarily mean better. Just as the advent of CDs killed the great medium of album cover art, so too has e-mailing and texting laid waste the century's old art of letter writing.
The first handwritten letter was crafted by the Persian Queen Atossa in 500 B.C. Ever since, people from all cultures and all corners of the world have been sitting down to express their thoughts, hopes, dreams and love on parchment.
That great tradition is dying. Most people under 30 have never received a handwritten letter. They have never had the great pleasure of standing on the porch, sifting through bills and junk mail, and had their heart leap at the sight of a thick letter addressed to them in cursive handwriting.
They do not know the thrill of tearing open that envelope right there on the porch and letting their tired eyes feast on four or five handwritten pages designed to be an oasis for a water-starved soul.
Better yet, they have no concept of the thrill there is in not opening that letter right away, but in saving it, like a candy bar tucked inside the cupboard drawer, for a quiet moment when all distractions are discarded and a comfy chair is the only accoutrement needed to allow one's heart to soar to heights unimaginable.
Everyone has one person that forged his or her connection to letter writing. For me, it was Susan Danaher. We met when we were both in high school. I attended Niagara Falls High School and Sue went to Lockport High. Not having a driver's license meant that the distance between Niagara Falls and Lockport was a chasm that could only be conquered by phone calls and letter writing.
The days that I would arrive home from school and find a letter from Sue were the happiest ones of my whole miserable high school existence. Like most 16-year-olds, I was filled with a liberal amount of angst and general disdain, and I was sure that I existed in some sort of holding cell that one day an iron key would open and I'd get down to the serious business of living my life as I damn well saw fit.
All of those feelings washed away when I'd look down at one of her perfume-scented letters, written in multicolored ink, and realize that inside was a window to her heart. Now, these many years later, I can't tell you exactly what she wrote about. I'm sure it was a mixture of a retelling of the mundane and a professing of the extraordinary that makes teenagers unique in all the universe.
What I do remember and will as long as I draw breath is the possibilities that her letters fostered in me. Poring over her every word left me with a sense that dreams could indeed be captured, hope surely sprang eternal and love was undoubtedly the saving grace of man.
For that reason, she will always remain one of the few great persons in my life. The purity of her teenage heart opened up a world of possibilities for me that I have attempted to incorporate in all of my endeavors.
Letter writing does that for people, and it does so much more. Many schools are now eliminating the teaching of cursive writing. The thinking is that kids today don't need it -- they simply need to know how to type into a keyboard or keypad.
It's a big mistake. The connection to language -- to expression itself -- is directly linked to the art of handwriting. My youngest son is autistic. He has made great strides in his verbal communication, and it is a direct result of his work with handwriting skills and sign language.
The English language has taken a beating due to the bastardization of texting and instant messaging. Its OK to use ttyl if you know that it stands for "talk to you later," but many kids today would be hard-pressed to tell you what the acronym represents. Also, the United States Postal Service is on hard times. They are hemorrhaging money, and there is talk of eliminating weekend delivery service altogether. One of the major reasons they are ailing is the fact that people now text or e-mail family and friends rather than write them a letter.
That is why Niagara Falls Library Director Michelle Petrazzoulo and I designated Jan. 17, 2012, as the first-ever "National Send a Handwritten Letter Day." The date was chosen because it was the birth date of Benjamin Franklin, the first Postmaster General of the USPS.
Over 700 people participated in the event, and the rush of good feelings from both letter writers and recipients led to the decision that the 17th of each month in 2012 would be a "Send a Handwritten Letter Day."
The idea is to flood the postal service with handwritten letters on those dates. Everyone is asked to choose at least one person -- although several are OK, too -- and write and mail that person a handwritten letter.
The good people at your local post office benefit with the spike in business, and people all over America benefit because they will get to go through their mail and find a rainbow of thoughtfulness mixed in with the usual grayness of bills and unsolicited mailings.
Many people have said that they will send their next letter to a child in hopes of fostering a new connection to the old art of letter writing. Maybe if they do, some of those kids will one day experience the holiday like Shelli Bridgeman of Iowa did. She sent a letter to her pen pal of 43 years. The two have been corresponding since they were just 7 years old.
To join the movement, visit www.facebook.com/handwrittenletterday and click the "Like" button.
On the 17th of each month in 2012, we make a stand with pen, paper and a stamp. Please join us; it's the write thing to do.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Feb. 7 2012|