In these last couple of weeks at the University of Dallas, I find myself clinging all but desperately to my friends here, even as the train begins to roll away. And when they are out of sight all too soon, I will need some way of feeding that warm flame of friendship.
In the past, one of the best ways that I have found of staying in touch is the hand-written letter. That’s right: the good old-fashioned, pen to paper, snail-mail letter. I hope all of you will continue to maintain your friendships during the summer and beyond. As a veteran letter-writer, then, I thought I’d share with you some of the benefits and drawbacks of this unique art form.
First, there are few joys that compare with the joy of opening your mailbox to see a nice fat envelope waiting for you, with your name on it, addressed by someone you know and love. There’s something deeply satisfying about the physicality of a letter: its weight in your hands, the smooth texture of the pages, perhaps even the smell, and the dry ruffling sound of paper. You know, as you hold it in your hands, that your friend (or better, your lover!) sat at a table with those very pages for some time and wrote on them and held them in his or her hands, too.
It’s true that there are many easier, more efficient ways of communicating long-distance these days, like Facebook and email. But it’s exactly the widespread and casual use of other media that makes letter-writing so sacred, that gives it that sense of being “set apart.” For many of us, Facebook is the place where we waste time, where we procrastinate and gossip. Maintaining a valuable friendship on Facebook is like going on a date at a junky diner. It’s possible to have a nice conversation over your greasy beans, but if you really cared for your date, you would go somewhere more special.
The problem with email is similar: Email is for business, for passing on information quickly. There is no sense of sacredness to an email. The writing of a letter, on the other hand, is something set apart (in our own age especially!) for personal confidences between friends.
In a hand-written letter, you have more time to think about what you write than in a phone or Skype call, so you can share ideas more clearly and precisely. This can be a drawback, however. Without visual and aural clues, hand-written letters are much easier to misinterpret. In a series of letters, a person can inadvertently develop a persona that is not entirely honest, or form an image of another’s character that is not entirely accurate. Facial expressions and tone of voice are important for keeping in touch with reality in any friendship.
The moral of the story? Give your friend a call once in a while, stay signed in to Skype, post your pictures on Facebook – but give letter-writing a try as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told “your letter made my day” and how many times I’ve felt the same way about letters I’ve received. Just wait until you see that envelope sitting in your mailbox. You’ll find that it’s worth it.