3 Reasons to Write a Letter. On Paper.

When I interviewed for my current job, I was given a book. The Journey of our Love is a collection of letters, notes, and postcards exchanged between St. Gianna Beretta Molla and her husband Pietro.

The letters are not only a beautiful record of their lives together (in everything from heartfelt romantic sentiments to a list of items to bring from home when Pietro joins his family on vacation), but is also a testament to the joy and adventure of a pen and paper correspondence. Whether to a family member, a friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a husband or wife, there is something particularly sweet about words you have waited days, or even weeks, to read. There is something special about a piece of paper someone took the time to fill in order to share a piece of their life with you.

Even after the telephone became a part of daily life, Pietro and St. Gianna continued to write to each other whenever they were apart. Their letters were treasured not only by them, but also by their children after they were gone, as a testament to the love of their parents. And now, as a book, they offer the world an inside look at a love that was always moving towards God.

There is nothing wrong with modern means of communication (I love being able to chat with friends and family, or just let a friend know I am praying for her with a quick text), but nevertheless, here are three reasons that you should write a letter anyways.


1)   It is both authentic solitude and authentic communion  


When you sit down to write a letter, you aren’t with the person you are communicating with. The fact that they can’t respond, they don’t even know what you’ve said, until the words are (literally) far from your pen, makes the experience one where you can really spend time in your own head and heart, getting to know yourself. At the same time, writing a letter is, by it’s nature, communal. It brings two people, who are (usually) geographically distant together, and reminds us that even when we are alone, our loved ones are always with us.



2)   It reminds us to slow down.


It takes time to write a letter. Between the time to sort through your thoughts and understand what you want to say and the time it takes to actually put those words down on paper, even a short letter deserves a few moments of peace and quiet. When we take the time, however, that spirit is not only manifested in our own hearts, but becomes a part of what you send to your loved ones.


3)   Handwriting is awesome.

We are made to be creative. And our hearts are naturally moved by beauty. Of course there is the chance to arrange words beautifully in many mediums, digital or otherwise. But there is a chance in a letter to communicate not only in what you write, but how you write it. Even chicken scratches that require a deciphering tool can say something endearing about the author (even if it is simultaneously frustrating...). Whether you are a master calligrapher or you just slow down long enough to make the letter legible, whether you prefer glittery purple or classic black ink, plain white copy paper or vintage stationary… there is so much more to a letter than the words you write. It is a chance to express so much more of yourself than a text or email, and that alone is beautiful.







Commitment in the Modern Age

At a conference in January, I was planning on getting together with some friends for drinks one evening. We set a time and a meeting place. As the time drew closer, we heard the place we wanted to go was filling up, so I sent out a quick text to change the plan, in the hopes of expediting the process of getting a table. Then we got word of another party. Only half of the group had arrived, so I sent out a quick poll to see if we wanted to change our plans. We ended up making the new party our new meeting place before going back to get our drinks—so another text went out to inform all those who were still catching up to all the changing plans. Someone had to run back to the original meeting place to find someone who got lost, someone went to make sure we didn’t lose our table, and someone texted that they were getting food before meeting us. At some point I realized how ridiculous the whole situation was becoming, and marveled that anyone ever did anything social without a cell phone. When I mentioned this, a friend put it rather simply,

“People made plans and they stuck to them.”

People made plans and stuck to them. What’s funny, is since it has become relatively easy to change plans on the go, doing so is no longer considered a breech of commitment. We can change our plans to fit our current whims, and it isn’t considered rude, so long as we keep everyone informed.

Now, before I get going on this one, I must say there are legitimate reasons to change plans, and cell phones make this process much smoother than communication technologies past. When it’s pouring rain on the site of you picnic, or your roommate broke her leg, or you realize you double booked yourself, or there was a car accident on the way, it is proper to change plans as necessary, and communicate clearly with those who are involved.

BUT, does this mean that when something more exciting comes up, or when we realize we don’t feel like doing what was originally planned, changing our plans to suit our new interests is ok? I can think of instances when I was planning on having dinner with a friend, and when other options presented themselves, the plans were changed. I was included in the new plans, but I am not convinced this means that the original commitment was fulfilled. Why?

The original commitment wasn’t made a priority, it was weaseled into something new. The planned event occurred, but it was changed to fit a different context than originally intended. It was changed to prevent it from getting in the way of something else. And because I was still being included, I wasn’t asked, but was told.

It is no secret that our generation is talked about as one that is afraid of commitment. Is it possible that we simply don’t understand commitment? Is it possible that we see commitments as things we can alter to fit our preferences, even as they change? Is it possible our fear of commitment comes from our lack of practice? From our (somewhat lazy, and selfish, in my personal opinion) idea of what keeping a commitment means? And is all of this being disguised by the fact that constantly changing plans, constantly trying to fit it all in, is socially acceptable?

It is hard to constantly strive to keep to commitments, and to keep them as they are, especially in most modern social landscapes where last minute events are constantly popping up. I hope, however, that you will ask yourself these questions, and then take a look at your own habits in light of your response. Determine what it means to keep your word. And then make sure you keep it. Determine what it means to fulfill a commitment, and then fulfill it. Doing so in small matters is the only way to prepare yourself to do so in large ones.

We may belong to a generation notorious for being flaky. That doesn’t mean we should settle for being flaky ourselves (or letting others get away with being flaky with us for that matter). Let us be men and women of our word, and show our peers the joy that comes from doing so.