Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Writing Letters

Dear _____, 

The other morning when I woke up for the usual mid sleep bathroom trip, I knew I would not be able to fall back asleep right away. Usually, that is my cue to open whatever book I am reading or to meditate for awhile, but this time I decided to write a letter.
I had received an email a couple days previously from a longtime friend outlining a distressing crisis in her life. While I had responded via email right away, I told her I wanted to sit with what she had told me, and I would write her a letter soon. What to say had been percolating in my head and heart for several days. 

In the quiet of darkness, I sat at my lady's writing desk in the living room and the words flowed easily and, I hope, warmly and perhaps even wisely. How satisfying it felt to choose from my stash of notecards and stationary and then to move my fountain pen across the page. Finally, with the lick of the envelope and the completion of her address, I was ready to return to bed, feeling connected to my friend and confident she will feel my compassion and support. 

A Letter Stash

Little by little my husband has been emptying the storage unit where we stored so much stuff while our house in Madison was for sale. One of the last deliveries was a HUGE bin loaded with letters I have received over a ten year period. Inside were weekly letters from my father who was very upset when we moved to Ohio, and I had suggested to him that he write to us every Sunday evening just as he had written to his mother for many, many years before her death. Many of those letters were bundled inside that almost casket-sized bin. Other bundles were from two friends who wrote weekly. One of them not only wrote big chunky letters, but decorated both cards and envelopes with stickers and collages of cut out magazine pictures. Works of playful art. So much life documented and narrated. So much expression. So many words. Such giving in those envelopes. 

My challenge was what to do with those letters. I recognized if I decided to reread them all, I would be living with that bin for a very long time. I knew it was time to let them go. I went through the ribboned bundles, deciding only to check for photos or anything else that should not be lost. Occasionally, I read a letter or several paragraphs, and memories of time and place and spiritual  growth would wave in front of me, but for the most part I said good-bye and thank you and I love you and even forgive me for not revisiting each offering. They are not all gone, for over the years I slipped an occasional letter or copied a key passage of a letter into a journal. 

Letter-writing versus Emailing
I ended this process with a desire to write more letters once again, and I intend to do that. A couple years ago my New Year's intention was to write a letter every day; an intention I fulfilled, but did not maintain into the next year, even though it had become a spiritual practice that deepened my awareness of the movement of God in my life and strengthened my connection to many relationships, both casual and intimate. I recognize, however, that even though I love writing letters, most of my correspondence will remain emails. 

Is it possible to bring some of the letter writing mind set to more of my emails? 

I read with interest Mason Currey's thought about emails in an essay in the New York Times on November 9, 2013. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/09/for-the-week-of-1110-the-death-of-letter-writing/
        Spend as little time as possible reading and replying
        to emails and dash them off with as much haste, and
        as little care to spelling and punctuation, as you can 
        bear. In other words, don't think of them as letters at 
        all--think of them as telegrams and remember that 
        you are paying for every word.

I get what he's saying and think this approach is worth following in many cases, but I also think sometimes, often in fact, writing an email can also be a form of spiritual practice. As I enter the name of the recipient, why not take a brief moment to close my eyes and bring that person into my heart. Before beginning the body of my email, can I pause and open my heart to what is waiting to be expressed whether it is to offer support or comfort or to rejoice or celebrate or simply to connect? Instead of automatically push the "send" button, why not reread that email as if your recipient is reading it--become that person. Imagine the response. Is this any more or less than what we want to experience when we are face to face? 

Handwriting a letter slows me down, makes me more aware of the person in my life and myself in the person's life, and I hope to return to that practice more frequently, but I think I hope I can bring that same consciousness to the screen as well. 

An Invitation
What role does letter writing have in your life? Who would benefit from receiving a letter from you? What about your emailing practice? How does that need to be modified or enhanced? I would love to know. 


  1. An e-mail is just as important as a long hand letter. It should be well constructed with proper spelling, phrasing, and punctuation. It needs to address the subject and not overburden the recipient.

    You, the sender, need to proof it!......Glenn

  2. I agre. Whoops, AGREE!
    At the same time, however, I get frustrated with myself for spending more time than necessary editing an email--being in the "writer" mode, when I should let go and work on other editing projects. As with everything, there is a need for balance.

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