How I helped kill letter writing

I felt almost ashamed sitting down with Julie Burns and Dianne Murray a few weeks ago.
After 42 years of exchanging letters across thousands of miles, the two women finally met this month when Murray came to visit Burns in Liberty.
Forty-two years. And in all that time, they’ve managed to write only a handful of e-mails.
I sit here – at my computer, naturally – writing this and wonder if I could do the same.
True, I had my pre-e-mail days. But even in my school days, when I, too, wrote to pen pals, words came to me better through my fingertips.
The pen and I simply have never been friends.
And so I have become one of the people, striking a blow at that old art of letter writing, with each stroke on the keyboard.
I shouldn’t be here, I thought. I would love to be them – but I can’t.
Still, I sat rapt listening to the women pour out their “how we met” story, the tale of two school girls, a name picked from a hat, letters sent back and forth between continents.
They were as natural together as any two women who have known each other since childhood, only this was the first time they had come face-to-face in all of those years.
It was the first time they’d been able to reach out and touch the friend with whom they’d shared stories of ups and downs.
They talked of savoring those letters, in the early days waiting months between mailings because the envelopes had to travel via boat.
Even now, with airmail making it as fast to ship a package overseas as it once was to send a letter just across the country, the breaks in between make the letters that much more special.
There’s something to look forward to when you don’t know how long it will take before you will again have a letter to read, perhaps a pile of pictures to leaf through.
I used to savor e-mails that way too.
When my husband and I were still dating, I could print out his e-mails and read and reread them.
Now you get called on abusing the environment if you print an e-mail, and who has time for printing? Who really has time for reading?
In a day when we can send a few words off via Twitter to keep people updated (of which I am very, very guilty) or update our status on Facebook, the letter is almost dead.
That’s why we need the Julie Burnses and the Dianne Murrays of the world to tell their stories, and to encourage teachers (as they hinted) to pass a hat with the names and addresses of pen friends from across an ocean or a few continents away.
Open the world to them – by making sure they write it all out, word by handwritten word.
Who knows what the world will look like in 42 years, but at least they’ll be able to write a letter.

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  1. Wow, neat story! We did pen pals when I was in elementary school, but it didn’t last long. It is a great idea though!

  2. There are lots of us out there, don’t worry!I maintain a letter writing web site and we’re over there doing our best to keep the art alive!

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