Priceless Letters

letterHow precious is a single letter?

If it is eagerly anticipated correspondence from a close friend or loved one, it may be invaluable.

Telephones and email have diminished the impact offered by the contents of an individual message, yet even now we value the touch of the written word shared by our soul mates across the miles.

Prior to the invention of the internet, and before the cost of international calls grew reasonable, I spent a year in the Republic of Korea, far from my wife and three young children. Naturally, like all military members serving far from home—even during times of peace—I missed them terribly.

While many wonderful things happened during the course of that year, and lifelong friendships were born, the highlight of each day was a visit to the installation post office. And, due to the faithfulness of my mother, sister and wife, I was greeted nearly every day by one or more handwritten messages of love and encouragement.

So important were these bonds that, prior to my departure, Delores and I covenanted to write one another every single day. A promise we both kept. In addition, I promised to write each of my three children their own letter each week. One evidence of the impact of those letters was the seamless reunion our family experienced when I returned after a year away.

In the even more distant past, this means of communication was even more vital. As little as a century ago, when individuals and families emigrated from their homelands they recognized the sad truth that they would probably never see their loved ones again.

Think about that for a moment. Saying “goodbye” usually meant “I will never see you again in this life.” How precious those missives must have been when they found their way between intimate companions!

Eighty-five years ago, C.S. Lewis was carrying on an active correspondence with the dearest friend from his youth, Arthur Greeves.

In the 1930s, the two men were corresponding on a weekly basis. Lewis opened one of his letters with the following paragraph to gently reprimand Greeves for allowing other responsibilities to delay his writing.

July 8th 1930

My dear Arthur,

Your letters get later and later every week. If you write on Monday the first week, on Tuesday the second week, and so on, then in seven weeks you will be writing on Monday again: but you will have written one letter less than you should.

In a year you will have written eight letters less, that is thirty six pages. Assuming that we both live thirty years more you will in that time have cheated me out of one thousand and eighty pages. Why, oh why, do you do these things?

As I said, the “reprimand” is gentle, even humorous, but it is sincere. It reveals just how meaningful each piece of his friend’s correspondence was to Lewis.

Many of us can relate to Lewis’ experience. We know firsthand how a smile comes to our lips and our pulse quickens when we find a message from a close companion.

I wanted to share this thought with each of you today for two reasons. First, I thought it might remind you of those whose words have encouraged and supported you in the past.

My second motivation is more important. I would like to suggest that you pause to consider just how important your letters are to others.

There are thousands of reasons for not scheduling (and guarding) time to write letters. Life is busy. The distractions vying for our attention are certainly more numerous, and loud, than they were in decades past.

Still, reminded of the value of the gift we offer when we write, perhaps it is time to shuffle our priorities.

22 thoughts on “Priceless Letters

  1. cherifields

    I’m eagerly awaiting correspondence of another sort at the moment. It will spell the difference in my professional career to a large degree, so my soul started resonating with your title instantly. Thanks for the great reminder that my words have power of a different sort in my own circles.
    For me the internet has made me far more likely to take a couple minutes to keep in touch with far flung friends and family, but letters are all the more precious. I think I’ll write my grandpa today while I still have the chance this side of heaven.
    PS Lewis’ note is delightful. He lets us see just how dependent he is on others for happiness in a most unexpected way.

    1. Yes, I think for most people a personal note is just… more personal… than email.

      I’m offering a prayer that your inbound correspondence offers good news.

    1. That is neat. Probably never get rich from it–that’s a shallow goal anyway–but just thinking of all the warm connections she’ll have a part in… that is rewarding in itself. And it’s nice to see that the art of letter writing has a wonderful young advocate such as yourself!

  2. I still have letters that my husband wrote to me before we were married when we were away from each other at college 35 years ago, as well as other notes he has written to me over the years.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. After it was posted, my daughter (with four kid of her own) took the time to scan a number of the cards and letters she received from me that year and send them to me. She still treasures them (and not for their literary merit)!

  3. Applause for all your letter writing. Growing up I always wrote letters but stopped as no one ever wrote back. An occasional phone call or thanks at a holiday gathering was nice, but not the same as getting a letter.
    Years later on a whim I sent Valentine cards/letters included to all my very old uncles. They were thrilled (I think showed them to all their friends and told their kids all the news over the phone). Then I remembered something my mother once said. “A phone call is over so fast and as you get older it’s hard to remember exactly what was said. A letter you can hold in your hand and visit over and over again.”
    So I wrote them all at least once a month as long as they lived. It doesn’t take that long, and it keeps them connected to life as well as our family.
    Your last two paragraphs should be in bold – so important.
    Wonderful post.

    1. That is a great gift you gave to your uncles. I have no doubt that receiving your letters remained one of the highlights of each month
      during those last years of their lives.

      1. I wasn’t aware of that, and I commend them in their effort.

        This did get me thinking though… with millions or bloggers… at any given time there are probably bloggers doing almost “everything.” Thank God we only learn (mostly) of good things like this, and not nefarious activities.

  4. Hi Robert. Very nice blog you have. I enjoy your ponderance of the letter’s importance in keeping us connected to people. Thank you for liking my recent post about writing letters.

      1. It may become vogue again with them, don’t trends come back around again every 30 years or so? Too bad that I am hoping what used to be a way of life may have a shot at becoming a rare passing trend in the future. Until then, I’ll keep advertising the virtues of tangible personal communication through impersonal digital means. I hope you have a great upcoming week. :)

  5. Pingback: Priceless Letters | Step Out of the Boat

  6. Pingback: C.S. Lewis was Not a Dramatist « Mere Inkling

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