The Joy of Letter Writing

For quite a few winters now, I have watched a great joy of mine turn slowly into sadness: No one writes letters anymore, a fact that is especially noticeable at Christmas card time. Is it that friends—as they have graduated from school, acquired jobs, gotten married or not, added children—are just too busy for such things? Has the art of letter writing been usurped by e-mail? Is it that many people never really liked writing letters in the first place (although everybody likes receiving letters)?

I'm guessing that people who say "I'm too busy to cook" are the same ones who don't make the time for letters either. Many of the reasons for why I cook mirror my motives for writing letters.

Just as hot-out-of-the-oven bread gives wondrous pleasure to anyone lucky enough to be within nose-shot of that kitchen, so finding a plump, hand-lettered envelope after opening the mailbox and rifling through the junk is an equally exquisite pleasure. Like bread, letters are a tactile pleasure unduplicatable by the ring of the telephone or the blinking neon of a computer: Paper comes in all thicknesses; ink has a smell and a way of changing appearance as the mood or speed of the writer changes; even the lowly postage stamp adds a colorful and festive air to a letter.

The act of cooking often is as pleasurable as the eating. Just so, writing a letter can be as cathartic as receiving one. Your life takes on color and shape when its events are spun out onto paper. Patterns emerge. You discover things you didn't know were going on in your head—there they are coming out at the end of the pen. You find you can make others laugh at the crazy things you saw people do that day; things seem to get funnier by the very act of telling.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1997
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