letter

LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri beat Texas for the 2009 CWS title. Five days afterward, Mainieri received in the mail a handwritten letter of congratulations from Texas coach Augie Garrido. It is framed and hangs in his home.

Although January isn’t over, a lot of us have already abandoned our New Year’s resolutions from the first of the month. If you’re looking for a new one, here’s a suggestion. At least once this year, send a handwritten note to someone you care about.

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That thought came to mind over the holidays when our son, home from college, gave everyone in the household a small, handwritten note telling each of us what we meant to him. It’s something I’ll treasure the rest of my life, just as I’ll keep close at hand a note of encouragement our daughter, now grown and on her own, recently sent me when I went through a job change.

I won’t go into what the notes said. They were personal, which is one of the best things about handwritten letters. They have a pleasing sense of intimacy that’s hard for a tweet or even an email to match.

I thought about all of this again this month when one of my friends recalled a note his ailing wife had written him on their wedding anniversary. Physically confined by her health problems, she couldn’t go out and buy him a conventional gift. Instead, she put pen to paper to tell him, in lovely detail, about what their marriage had done for her. He carried the note in his briefcase to work each day.

When his wife died this month, my friend posted the letter on Facebook, choosing to share her message as a memorial to her love and devotion. That’s the other thing about handwritten letters. Precisely because they’re intensely private, handwritten notes have a special power when passed beyond their intended recipient.

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The comfort my friend received from his Facebook community after posting the letter has helped sustain him in his grief. It’s proof enough that we don’t have to choose between vintage forms of communication, like handwritten letters, and more modern innovations, like social media, to make meaningful connections.

Each medium has its own strengths, something I learned once again this month as I changed jobs. A young colleague gave me a handwritten note that touched me. I was also moved, in different ways, by various well-wishers on Facebook and Twitter as well as numerous emails.

Obviously, the question of handwritten notes or other means of communication is really a false choice. They all have special virtues, and the convenience of reaching a loved one online means that handwritten notes aren’t likely to make a big comeback.

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But the increasing rarity of handwritten notes is yet another source of their appeal. In a column last year, I pointed out that because we get so few handwritten notes these days, they’re sure to stand out.

With that in mind, any handwritten note you send someone this year is certain to be a hit. It might not change your world, but it could change theirs.

 

Email Danny Heitman at danny@dannyheitman.com.