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Grieving the Death of Handwritten Letters
Though computers and e-mail play an important role in our lives, nothing will ever replace the sincerity and individualism expressed through the handwritten word.
- David H. Baker, Executive Director of Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association (WIMA).
WIMA encourages everyone to display their creativity on the 23rd of January by using a pen or pencil to write a letter, a poem, a note, or even a journal entry. Their purpose is to emphasize the importance of handwriting and have individuals explore its “purity and power.”
Sad to say, handwritten letters are already dead to some of the elderly and others whose friends and relatives communicate only by texts and emails. Not only are the younger people not wanting to write; when they write, they do not care to write well. This is contrary to the habit of students in previous generations who tried to put forth their best, especially in love letters.
Following is the expression of those of us who grieve the death of handwritten letters.
We are Grieving
We are grieving:
the loss of handwriting—the art of putting words on paper, using a pen;
the absence of mail with our names written in cursive on the envelopes;
the scarcity of beautiful stationery on which personal letters used to be written.
We are grieving for:
the grandparents and great-grandparents who, because they never learned to use computers, receive no letters from their offspring who only write emails;
marriage partners who have no handwriting to compare, showing how differently they write each other’s name thirty years after they crafted their first love letters;
the young woman who may never know what it is like to cherish a stack of love letters tinged with the sweat of her anxious lover’s palm;
the young man who may never enjoy the fancy curves of a woman’s handwriting which, compared with his straight or slanting strokes, symbolizes her femininity.
We also grieve for other important features which comprised the handwriting era.
Historical Letter Writing Facts
Dates and Events
Around 500 BC - According to the ancient historian Hellanicus, the first recorded hand written letter was penned by Queen Atossa of Persia.
Before 1840 - Coach or horse riders delivered the letters. The receiver paid cash on delivery; the cost depended on the number of pages and the distance traveled.
1840 - Great Britain introduced the first prepaid stamp. Other countries organized similar systems.
1845 - The United States established a uniform 5 cents postal charge.
1847 - The United States standardized stamps.
Love for the Mailman
We no longer anticipate the arrival of the mailman, hoping that he brings the answer to our emotional longing.
We used to smile at him when we glanced through the letters and saw that special handwriting, and he in turn would be joyful that he made us smile.
We fell in love with him--as a reflection of the love we had for the one whose love letters he brought. Now that we associate him mostly with bills, he receives less love and fewer smiles.
Now, most of what the mailman brings are public distributions with names stamped on labels prepared by machines.
Sometimes he or she does not even have to read our names, because some letters are identical for all the neighbors.
See how the absence of handwritten letters damaged the bond between us and the mailman?
- Cursive Only Grandma's Writing? - CBS News
One of the problems of teaching cursive today is that it tends to get squeezed out by other curriculum priorities, like preparing for standardized tests.
The Handwritten Notes
Nowadays, teachers do not spend much time teaching handwriting; students can hardly read what they write. That coupled with the fact that texting is the popular mode of communication is the reason for the death of notes in the classroom.
Sending texts and emails in the classroom can never be as adventurous as passing sweet and juicy gossip in handwritten notes. Whether it was just mischievous, or facts we really needed to know, it was a fun undertaking.
Privacy was less back then, without a mini-keyboard at the fingertips; but sweethearts managed to scribble and put down the pen before the teacher turned around, and it was worth the dare to fasten it between the pages of the textbook, or drop it on the floor at the right time, for the right person to retrieve.
In the event that the note passed from hand to hand and fingers slightly touched, it was intimacy without iniquity—the making of a deep, deliberate friendship cultivated by deliberate handwriting instead of hurried electronic mail.
Back then, there was no way to “insert photos” into our letters, but we knew how to paint images with words.
We learned how to describe our features so that the reader gazed into our dancing, close-set, bright or tired eyes while he or she read our words. We checked on our vocabulary to decide that lustrous, not luscious, described our hair; and delight, not daylight, described our mood. Our writing arsenal included dictionaries to help us make our portraits accurate.
We let our imaginations fuel the words we sent, and unveil the words we received. Miraculously, the images we painted with words did justice to the images that came whenever they did from the photographer. Meanwhile, we learned spelling and patience.
Just ask the married couples who were married forty or fifty years ago. Ask them about the love letters—where they keep them, the last time they read them, and how often they kiss them.
Those handwritten characters which compose the letters reveal traits of the writer’s personality not possible to see in texts and emails. When distance separates them, they share the touch of the actual paper sent from one to the other, some scented and some stained with actual tears. Those cherished compositions plus the privacy, the vulnerability and the love they represent will last forever.
Amazing Video on the Power of Handwritten Letters. A Must See!
So, we are grieving for those who have settled for the quick and fleeting electronic thrills which seem so trifling in comparison with the handwritten letter. But while we grieve, we hope—that we can resurrect the handwritten letter, especially the handwritten love letter.
© 2014 Dora Isaac Weithers