Without handwritten letters kept safe for generations, the past would be a mystery. Letters help us to gain a better understanding of different historical periods and can reveal the personal and emotional sides of important world events. Will the increased use of texts and emails (which are often deleted) mean that in the future, important historical insights will be lost?
Letter of the past
Letters written by World War I and II soldiers provide precious insights into what it was like to be in a war situation, as well as into the feelings of loved ones left behind. Letters from the famous physicist, Albert Einstein to Franklin Roosevelt reveal Einstein's fears about the development and use of nuclear weapons by Germany (auspost.com.au). Napolean and Ronald Reagan were passionate letter writers. The insight from such letters has been quite profound.
Letters written by the Apostle Paul have been recorded in the Bible and form a large part of the New Testament. In Paul's writings, he provides the first written account of what it is to be a Christian and thus a description of Christian spirituality. His letters have been characterized as being the most influential books of the New Testament after the Gospels of Matthew and John.
To write or not to write
A good handwritten letter is a creative act, and not just because it is a visual and tactile pleasure. It is a deliberate act of exposure, a form of vulnerability, because handwriting opens a window on the soul in a way that cyber communication can never do (the guardian.com.au)
Many years ago the cost of a letter was decided by the number of pages that had been written, and the person receiving the letter had to pay the postage costs (auspost.com.au). Nowadays if you want to send a standard-sized letter, it's easy. Just write it, put it in an envelope, stick a stamp on it and put it in a post box. So, why don't we write? Are we simply too busy? Are email and texts easier and a better form of communication? In this day and age do we need to think of the environment and save paper?
Have we made a sacrifice?
What would writers of the past think of our written communication today? Simon Garfield has written some very powerful insights into the lost art of letter on the online Wall Street Journal. He states that we have grown used to the fact that we no longer write letters as we used to, but I'm not sure we have fully contemplated what this means to future generations. We love email, as we shouldâ€"for its brilliant speed, its global reach, and its free transmission of vast amounts of information. Its terrors have not lessened its use. But how much have we really sacrificed on this altar of swiftness and efficiency?
Private letters account for a lot of what we know today. Garfield points out that our principal eyewitness account of Vesuvius derives from a letter from Pliny the Younger to the Roman historian Tacitus. Our knowledge of the Roman world has been hugely enriched by the discovery in the early 1970s of inky messages on oak and birch discovered not far from Hadrian's Wall in Britain.
And then there are the letters tucked away in a shoebox that may rewrite our family history. Most letters won't hold dark secrets, but many will illuminate the shadows; this is how we felt, this is how we thought about things. And we did think. Letters, full of content accumulated over days or weeks, may reflect a slower cerebral whirring, a reasoning far from the instant responses demanded by email. Letters tend to hang around for far longer than the writer intended, and history is the beneficiary.
I recently watched a movie called 'Love Letters to God'. How beautiful were the words that this little boy wrote to God as he drew close to the time when sickness would take him to meet his Creator. These were words from the heart and gave insight into a season of his life.
Perhaps if you haven't put a pen to paper for a while, this might be a good place to start. Ink smudged with tears, confidently shaped text or scrawled sentences will tell its own story. A story that sometimes fingers on a keyboard may fail to tell.
Laura Veloso is wife to John and the mother of 3 young boys. She is trained in child welfare and primary school teaching and has experience in overseas missions and youth leadership.
Laura Veloso's archive of articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/laura-veloso.html