Growing up, my best friend Tahl and I would send each other letters. We lived less than ten minutes away and we saw each other every day in class and very often on weekends, but still, we wrote to each other. In the summer, I’d skip down to my mailbox that had pineapples on it; the sunlight would warm my bare feet and the grass would be spongy and soft. Whenever I found a letter addressed to me from 6 Hanson Way I’d feel a thrill of excitement and bound back up to my house, leaping over the large stone stairs in the anticipation of opening up the carefully sealed envelope to see what Tahl had to see this week.
One summer, Tahl visited Israel. Although he was born in Missouri, his parents were born in Israel and they were just visiting family. Tahl sent me postcards and candy. A couple years later, Tahl’s family decided to move permanently to Israel. We promised to Skype regularly and to keep sending letters. We did well for a while, but soon enough, the letters became less and less frequent. One day, I found a letter I had written to Tahl. I had forgotten to send it.
For me, it’s impossible to separate my own connection with letters to a class period devoted to letter writing. I thought the formality of letter writing was interesting enough—it was even more interesting to compare it to the personal letter. I opened the class up to discussion because I genuinely wanted to know what everyone else was thinking. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a lot of my peers have recent written a letter.
There’s just something so much more personal about handwriting something. We talked about this a lot as we compared it to more modern forms of communication like texting. But looking at a text, where is the securing of good will? Where is the conclusion? What happened to the formality? What happened to what was once one of the most popular forms of communication?
It’s all good and well to talk about theory. I personally always enjoy a hearty conversation. But this class, I decided to take the opportunity and put theory into practice. Although incorporating the elements of formal letter writing was optional, I had my peers write letters. I asked them to take it seriously and to consider writing to someone that has been on their mind, someone they want to talk to but haven’t had the time, someone they miss. We took our time and wrote our letters. We talked about the experience and about letter writing in general. I mean, there’s a point in letter writing. It’s not something antiquated, buried in formal textbooks on proper letter writing techniques or anything like that.
Towards the end of class, I passed around envelopes and urged my peers to mail their letters. Because I did not mail Tahl that letter. And it’s a damn shame that we run out of time to talk to old friends or that we don’t have enough time to sit down an actual letter. But there’s something nice about receiving a letter. You know someone cares enough to take the time to craft something so deeply personal; the words on the paper are a direct result of their own hand in a font that is unique to that person. It’s a strange little communication that I fear is endangered. I admitted to be pushing an agenda in my class time.
I think letter writing is important and I genuinely hope that the letters that were written on Monday will be received by their audience with a grateful smile. Maybe a letter of mine will find its way to Israel.