The Power of the (Hand)Written Word

9:41 AMHeather

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the weekend I spent with my 90 year old grandmother and my sister, going through 100 years worth of family photographs and letters. We were mesmerized by the letters between my great-grandmother and her two sisters. Sallie, Hallie and Johnnie. We became acquainted with each of their personalities and the complex and often dramatic way they confronted each other and spoke to one another. Sallie was the busy mom of 9 children, seemingly stuck in a difficult marriage. Hallie was the negative drama queen, leaning toward narcissism. And Johnnie was the peacemaker, ever trying to talk her sisters off their ledges. 

It was more entertaining than an epic movie, listening in on this family history, and the tales that the letters offered.

As I've pondered all the treasures found within yellowed and brittle pages, I've come back to something that really bothers me. It's one of my "soap box" thoughts. It's a whole THING to me. Something that I think we don't take seriously enough. Including myself, by the way.

In our digital age, with email, text messaging and social media, we're losing the art of placing pen to paper and expressing ourselves to loved ones and friends through the written word. 

On the bright side, the digital age works well for my people, as poor penmanship seems to run in my little family. 

But on the flip side, we're creating a vacuum. We've allowing a tremendous void not only for each other, but for the generations to come. 

This has long bothered me. And here's where it all started and why this is such a big deal to me.


I have exactly ONE handwritten note addressed just to me from my father. Only one. He sent me one letter my freshmen year at Baylor, when he was already fighting his terminal cancer. And I wish I could say that it was some flowery letter full of deep life lessons and heartfelt affection. 

But it was a letter about how I should be using the Spanish lab since I was paying for it and how I needed to rethink my habit of going kicker dancing.

Not exactly the type of sage wisdom that I've eagerly shared with my own children or reread a thousand times to remind myself of my father's great love for me.

Don't get me wrong. He was offering his own advice, in his own way. And yes, he was truly concerned about Spanish labs and "dance halls." 

But my dad was really not a stern, crotchety kind of dad. He was loving and kind and wise beyond words. He was a servant of people, a meeter of needs, a man quick to laugh, and the first to offer a corny joke designed to put people at ease.

So, it's always bothered me that the one handwritten note I have does not really represent who my dad was.

Fast forward to a few years after I lost my dad. I can remember watching the story of a lady named Erin who was dying from cancer. She had made the decision to write letters, make videos, and purchase gifts for her daughter for all the occasions that would come after her own death.

I was insanely jealous. I must admit that I still feel a swell of emotions when I think about it. Because I wish I had those kind of treasures. I wish I had my dad's perspective on big life things and his life story and his deepest thoughts and feelings. Written out on paper. In his own handwriting.

I wish I had that particular aspect of his legacy.

I think it's important. I think it's important sometimes to just write it all out, messy handwriting or not, and let those around us know our thoughts and feelings and insight. 

I think it's our own way to leave stepping stones for future generations, outlining our own paths in life.  And who doesn't love getting an unexpected handwritten note in the mail, mixed up with the bills and advertisements?
This isn't a new thought to me--this strong feeling that we should do better about handwritten notes and letters. And I used to be way better at it.

When I became the chaplain in our newly founded sorority, one of the things I felt passionately about was writing a handwritten note to each sorority member throughout that semester, giving them words of encouragement and identifying strengths I saw within them. So I tackled the roster, sending out a few notes each week. 

Since then, I've allowed life and schedules and tasks to sideline me from this type of endeavor.

But, it's never too late. I think we tend to brush this whole idea aside and go with the convenient "thank you" text or "thinking of you" email instead of writing out our sentiments on paper. Through snail mail. The old fashioned way.

Yet, there's a magic to handwritten correspondence that we tend to underestimate. It's not as convenient. It takes time. It takes effort. And all of that is easily seen and appreciated by the recipient. 

I was surprised a few years ago when I walked into my mother-in-law's office and saw a framed letter. It was a letter from me. Written in 2007. I had long since forgotten that I had written it. But she looks at it every day when she walks into that room.

Apparently, it had meaning and significance to her. And the fact that she treasures it makes me feel cherished as well.

Which is all a rather novel idea in an era where our kids aren't necessarily taught how to write in cursive.

So, I'm preaching to myself as I am expressing these thoughts on this blog post. I'm sending myself a reminder that you can all lean in and listen to as well.

Let's bring back the handwritten note! Let's start a revolution of taking the time to put a pen to some actual paper and sending our thoughts, love, and prayers to those we know. And even those we don't know well. 

Let's ditch the idea that neatly printed notes from the computer trump even messy but thoughtful handwritten correspondence. Let's send the United States Postal Service scrambling with fresh floods of SNAIL mail sent to those we know who are hurting, lonely, struggling, or doing awesome.

Let's grab some fresh wide ruled paper or college ruled or computer paper. And instead of scrolling through Facebook feeds, let's offer some lines of handwritten thoughtfulness that others can scroll through while holding it in their hot little hands.

Let's embrace once again the treasure of actual notes written with our own hands to express our thoughts and feelings to those we know and love.

What if we all did this? What if you took ten minutes to jot a note to the friend who you saw posting some hardship on social media? What if you wrote a love letter to your spouse, like back in the day? What if you wrote a legacy letter to your children, expressing the way you feel about them and the things you appreciate about them?

What if? 

For teenagers today who think this sounds like a completely foreign concept, let me offer exhibit A.

Back in my day, this was how we chatted in class. The carefully folded and discreetly passed actual note we sent across the room. 

And lest you think texting acronyms like LOL or BTW are something you invented, let me remind you that my generation master minded such brilliance as LYLAS.

Like a boss.

Ask your mom what that means.

I still have a box of such notes that my husband and I used to pass through our totally grossed out and over it roommates when we were dating in college. 

I'm sure my kids are gonna LOVE reading those someday. Or their children. Or so on.

The handwritten note.

I'd love to see a resurgence of it. In this time when hand lettering and all things vintage or retro (AKA--from my own childhood) are making a comeback, can we just make the handwritten note or letter a THING again? 

So that someday, 100 years from now, some family members can gather today and totally catch a glimpse of our lives in the form of a tangible legacy we leave behind?


Just so you know.

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