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The Art Of Tangibility

I read a letter today … an actual letter, handwritten on stationery. It was found in an old trunk of a dear friend’s grandmother. The letter was two large pages, filled corner to corner with the most wonderful word pictures of beautiful landscapes and perfect metaphors. I imagined the golden days of hats on Sundays, steam engine trains, and well, letter writing. I checked the postmark date so I could validate the pre-war image in my head. To my surprise it was not the expected 1941, as the well-read papers suggested, but rather 1989, a relatively recent year!

I read the letter again three times eager to memorize the author’s every literary move. Suddenly I realized what set this letter apart. It was well thought-out; the author was deliberate not flippant with her words.

The art, I realized, was not found in penmanship and elegant stationery, the art was the love and selflessness that seemed to exude from each pen stroke. It was handwritten, which means the author did not save a copy of her work to marvel at in narcissistic reflection. She merely offered perfectly crafted metaphors for the eyes of only one loved soul. She asked no questions and gave no return address, as if to suggest that she expected nothing in return for her valuable gift.

Letter writing is a lost art in my generation. Why have we lost it, for none of us has lost the ability to write, and neither have we, in our ever so opinionated state, lost words to say to one another? Could it be that letter writing was not lost, but rather abandoned for the flashy speed and convenience of the Internet?

We have a thirst for speed and instant gratification. Conditioned by Wal-Mart, perhaps it’s our desire to roll back the price of communication, saving pocket change on a stamp. But honestly, what is 37 cents to a girl addicted to Starbucks? (I guarantee that my friend’s grandmother wouldn’t be caught dead paying four dollars for a cup of coffee.) Maybe, in our environmentally conscious condition, we have decided to save trees by conserving paper and envelopes. (While the majority of us don’t think twice as the four extra napkins we grabbed “just in case” slide off our tray under the swinging trash can door.) I’m not convinced penmanship is the culprit either, although mine could definitely use a little less caffeine.

It’s not even the act of letter writing we have forgotten, for I’ve seen hundreds of sales letters, business letters and my personal favorite: complaint letters. What we have regretfully misplaced is the art of letter writing, and I don’t think the tools of this art are pen, paper, envelopes or beautiful seals, but the selfless love written in invisible ink between the lines of jittery cursive.

When was the last memory you have of spending good time on a letter you expected nothing in return for? I mean, let’s face it; the last letter we wrote was probably to solicit support for some mission trip we were taking. How many times have you shot an e-mail through the pipes full of questions, just so you could have something coming into your inbox a few days later— securing the fact that you have friends that do nothing but sit around hoping you will e-mail them?

We have lost the art of letter writing, but it is merely a signature of my generation’s favorite art. We have lost the art of love, the art of giving, and we have perfected the art of self. Let’s change the tides and bring back the lost art of tangibility— it only takes some time, a bit of love and some paper.

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[Debbie Forrest is a graduate of Belmont University and leads worship at women’s retreats. She is currently pursuing any job that pays the rent.]

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