Last week’s column about handwritten letters prompted a number of responses from sympathetic readers — all of them, as of this writing, sent in by email.
I wasn’t surprised or disappointed that readers would tap out their tributes to the handwritten letter by using a keyboard, then hitting “send.”
The point of my column, after all, wasn’t to lament the rise of electronic communication, a gift of technology that quickly and easily connects me with so many people I care about. My only real message was that sometimes, as with a note of condolence or thanks, putting pen to paper can still be a good way to give what you say a sense of occasion.
All of this came to mind, as I had mentioned, when I went to write a letter to a grieving widower and couldn’t find any stationery in the house. Its absence made clear that I hadn’t sent a handwritten letter in a very long time.
Does that mean the handwritten letter is doomed? Reader Denise Ramirez isn’t optimistic. “Putting pen to paper, to me, is extraordinarily important,” she wrote. “It's a dying art. So very sad.”
The Rev. Raymond A. Jetson, who runs a Baton Rouge nonprofit, was more hopeful, noting that he’s renewed his connection with writing by hand. “I have begun the practice of writing personal notes of thanks,” he told me. “It evokes a level of engagement beyond ‘pecking out’ a quick email. I actually contemplated sending you a handwritten note, but the speed of this medium won out,” he added in his email.
Reader Rafael Bermudez, who dabbles in photography, incorporates his hobby into his handwritten notes. “What I do for various occasions is send a pretty card that I assemble with an appropriate photo I've taken,” he wrote. “The photo I use depends on the occasion. For example, for a death I use a photo I took of a small but elegant country church in North Carolina or one of a butterfly on a colorful flower. The cards I use are quite elegant and have lots of space for a handwritten note.”
Writing recently in The New York Times, Margaret Renkl reflected on the significance of getting a handwritten note of condolence in the mail. “A condolence letter is a gift to the recipient, but it’s a gift to the writer, too,” she noted. “Remembering someone you loved is a way of remembering who you were, a way of linking your own past and present.”
Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, great-granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway, wrote recently about how much handwritten letters meant to her famous ancestor — and why she continues to write a few herself. “When I write longhand,” she mentioned, "each pass of the ink on to paper is a physical creation … it contains remnants of myself.”
Reason enough, I guess, why the art of writing letters will never completely vanish.