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Hand-Written Letters: More Than Ink on Paper

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A friend gave me and my peers an assignment for November: write at least one letter to a person who has been a game changer in your life. Make it the pen-to-paper kind or the typed-and-printed kind if you’re worried about the legibility of your handwriting.

My friend, a former high school teacher, received a letter from a student he hadn’t heard from in decades who wrote about how she looked up to him and his family and was using his model of raising her own. It’s a letter he keeps in a box with the other correspondence he feels blessed to have received.

When someone puts generous thought — about you — to paper, it is special beyond words and much more enduring than fleeting texts or emails. I’ve held on to letters from my father, who wrote me on my wedding day; my husband; both grandmothers; close friends and readers from my newspaper reporting days.

The thing I was most struck by at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in California was the sheer number of letters Richard Nixon wrote to family and friends — even Ray Kroc to thank him for his hamburgers! — as well as his own daughter on her wedding day. Judging the quantity and quality of his letters, I discovered a surprising admiration for him.

Letters can be funny, too. I laugh out loud just thinking about the prank missives in “Letters From A Nut” by Ted L. Nancy — especially the one asking the president of the American Seat Company whether it’s best to enter and exit an auditorium rear or crotch first.

One of my favorite books is “Letters of the Century: America 1900-1999,” containing  412 beautifully written, historically important letters printed in chronological order. Many detail deep gratitude. The book’s editors write they’re thankful for the Internet because it helped them find the letters, which are reprinted without fixing spelling, punctuation or grammar because they didn’t want to ruin the feeling. Their cheeky introductory quote: “People no longer write letters. Lacking the leisure, and, for the most part, the ability, they dictate dispatches, and scribble messages. When you are in the humor, you should take a peep at some of the letters written by people who lived long ago.” — Joel Chandler Harris to his son, April 5, 1900

Now thanks to my friend, I plan to write at least one letter each November to someone who has made a difference in my life professionally and personally. I urge you to do the same. For only a few moments of effort, you and those you write will be grateful for a lifetime.