Tuesday, 28 February 2012

A woman of letters

When I was 14 I had a pen-pal in France. Her name was Dominique and she lived in Ch√Ęteau Something-or-Another. For several years we exchanged letters. I clearly remember the excitement when one of hers arrived with its unusual looking stamps and its blue airmail sticker. The paper was particularly light weight and all the writing was done in fountain pen. As our lives expanded into adulthood, we lost touch. If I tried, I probably could find her on Facebook or Twitter but the relationship wouldn’t be the same. We built the best one out of paper and ink.

There is something about a handwritten message. It has a certain gravitas about it—a sense that the person writing it has bothered to think and taken the time to put pen to paper, place it in an envelope, attach a stamp and get it to the post box. Clearly text messaging and writing e-mails involves a process of thinking and effort. Arguably the effort involved isn’t as great (and not as expensive). But it’s a ‘convenience’ world and I get the use of technology for fast and expedient communication. I'm a fan myself but not for every type of message I need to send.

Today, I thought of two people to whom I wanted to send special messages. One was a friend who is ill and undergoing medical treatment; the other, a woman who wrote me a letter of support and gratitude after the abrupt cancellation of a community project in which I was involved. Emails were never going to cut it. I found embossed paper, thick enough to absorb a bit of ink. I wrote my messages without editing, heartfelt. Stamped the envelopes, walked to the red box, shot them through the slit and heard the satisfying thud as they landed.

I know that when the notes are received, there will be—as my French pen-pal may have said—a certain je ne sais quoi about them. Because the value of the personal letter is that it focuses on the recipient. It’s a unique item meant for him or her only; a one-of-a-kind message in which they are the complete centre of attention. I felt good about it. I like my rediscovered love of the handwritten letter. I think I’ll keep it up. If I have your address, watch your mailbox…