“Writing a letter slows us down enough to remember what communication really feels like. When we read our thoughts on paper, we see ourselves not just from our habitual subjective perspective but also from the outside. Psychologists call this ‘reflective function’: It gives us the capacity both to feel an experience and to make sense of it.”
That passage was in an article titled “Sincerely Yours” by Andrew Peterson which was in Whole Living magazine and it grabbed my attention one cool November night last year. What had happened to the days of letter writing? Birthday cards, check. Thank you notes, still a priority. Postcards, occasionally. But when it came to actual letter writing as a form of communication…well, it had been years. Where had that need gone? The obvious answer is the inexpensive cell phone calls, evites, the internet and, more recently, texting. Once all of my high school and college friends were online by the mid to late 90’s, the need to send letters became obsolete.
I’ve kept a stack of letters from my junior year abroad in college. They are priceless. That far away from home you would occasionally buy a phone card to ring a friend studying overseas as well and decide a time and place to meet in the weeks ahead but mostly it was through letters. It was cheap – but it was also all we knew. Most kids abroad these days use skype, email and the phone to reach friends. They might be connecting faster but the personal touch has been lost as well as their own reflection. These letters I’ve kept are as important as any journals I’ve saved over the years. You cannot replace mail stamped from the Italian, French and Australia postal service in 1994 with an email.
A good friend of mine in Portland, Katherine, and I have recently begun writing letters to each other, communicating exclusively via snail mail vs. any other option. I’m crazy about this exchange. Katherine, whom I see maybe once a year, has touched this piece of paper I am holding and this is the ink which came from her very own pen. There is an energy in this letter which would never come through online or even on the phone. When I notice her letter in between all the junk mail and bills, it stands out clearly from all the rest and is immediately opened. I can’t say the same with an email written be Katie.
Looking back at the Whole Living article it suggests how one can use this applied mindfulness and make a difference in his or her own life. It was such a simple article but one that deserves all the credit for being the idea behind brown ink. The thrill I get when I receive an unexpected letter in the mail trumps all other modes of communication and it’s that excitement that keeps me heading to the post office, both as a receiver and a sender.