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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A lament for letters




Over the past few days I've been sorting through the household paperwork and getting the filing in order. Bills to be paid, records to keep you know the sort of thing.

Amongst the important but boring were some things of a more personal nature, a few photos, some certificates of achievement and a stack of letters. Most of them were written to me while I was a student (1993-1996) and while I was working in Burundi (1999-2000). Some of the letters contained nothing of any great note and they went to the recycling and others shared more than the events of the week, asked questions and offered answers, told of hopes and dreams and those I kept.
It struck me that it's been some time since I received, or wrote, a letter. I email, I facebook, I text, I sometimes tweet. Each new form of communication shorter and more rushed than the one that preceded it. Emails become (assuming they have a purpose) business like and to the point. Emails get things done. Texts, messages on Facebook or Twitter connect but rarely do they build relationships.

Even the letters that didn't stand the test of time in terms of their content still communicated. They told me of a friend who took the time to write, to tell me about their lives and not just assume I'll notice their latest status update. It made me think that some friendships are too good to just let slide because distance and busyness get in the way.

Last month I reflected that it does me good to walk at the pace of my young son and see the world with some fresh wonder, and now I see another lesson to slow things down a bit. Letter writing is slow both in the creation and the delivery compared to the speed of email and the almost instant nature of texts and tweets. But I'm not sure instant gratification or shallow connection is what I want from those I'm close to. If I can't be with them in person, then writing some considered thoughts on paper may be the next best thing.

I'm sure the art of writing a good letter is rapidly vanishing from our society but I think our society is poorer as a result. I'm sure I am poorer as a result. Time to think about the one I am writing to, time to think about what I want to say, time to write what's really important rather than immediate and temporary, time to build relationships with those I love but am not near. It's time to find out where I put the fountain pen...

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