What a Word is Worth

Posted January 27th, 2014

letter writingLetter writing has become a lost art. I’m sure you’ve heard that before. I wish it wasn’t true. Beyond simply languishing in a sea of despond over the matter, though, I do my best to hold the line. I write letters, at least randomly, if not routinely. No matter how much time I need to set aside for the task, I’m never sorry that I did.

In recent months, a dear friend of mine lost his partner of over 30 years. Her death was both sudden and grisly. As you might imagine, her passing left my friend spinning. I’ve buried enough loved-ones to more than empathize.

I was rocked by the news when it reached me, one time-zone and hundreds of miles away. Immediately, I wanted to cover the crack in my friend’s heart with my own two hands, but I couldn’t. I wanted to offer my shoulder for those unutterable moments when he could no longer hold back the tears, but I couldn’t. I wanted to hop on the next plane and, literally, fly to his side. But, for a host of reasons, I couldn’t. And yet, I was desperate to be present for my friend.

I sat down to write him a letter, one of the things I had it in my power to do. I’ve written several letters since, penned a poem just for him, and sent a collection of verse that might bring him a little healing, a little light. I sent each with the appropriate postage, and something more: I sent each with a prayer, and I hoped. I hoped that my meager attempts at being present, from a great distance, would, in some small way, matter.

The other day, I received a card from this friend, with a carefully worded, handwritten note. The first words made my heart leap:

“Dearest Nikki,

Thank you, thank you, thank you…”

In the body of the note, my friend let me know that my words on paper had spoken hope to his heart; that they had given him glimpses of a future in which he would, once again, be able to step into the light; that my simple words of encouragement and connection had mattered to him in this extraordinary time of need, and had mattered deeply.

When was the last time you wrote a letter? I’m not talking about a hastily dashed-off email, sent between sips of coffee, or bites of a hamburger during lunch. I’m talking about an old-fashioned, carefully considered, handwritten or typed letter. When?

I know you’re busy. Who isn’t? But when did we become so busy that we don’t make time for a friend who hungers for the words of encouragement, hope, advice—or even humor—that only we, as friends, can offer? Yes, finding the time to write a letter can be difficult. However, when those words matter as deeply as they do, isn’t it worth the l sacrifice?

Maybe one day, you trade the time you’d spend hanging out on Facebook, or checking your Twitter feed, to compose a letter instead. Or maybe you give up one episode of that half-hour sitcom to do the deed. The fact is, time can always be found for the things that matter. All I’m saying is, this is one of them.

That’s it. That’s all I have to say on the subject, except this: What are you waiting for? Somebody needs to hear from your heart, and a letter can be the perfect package in which to send it.