The language of letter writing

Good friends of mine, Barbara and Liz (a fantastic mother and daughter pair) recently saw a book they thought I’d love and gave it to me.  It’s called Just a Note to Say…: the perfect words for every occasion by Florence Isaacs (available at your local book store or here at Amazon).

The book is a great resource for finding the right words for a variety of events and has updated additions on when e-mail or e-cards are and are not appropriate.  Isaacs provides many helpful insights and tools, even for those of us who feel pretty comfortable writing a letter.

I was struck most by Isaacs’ words in her first chapter titled “The Power of Notes.” She makes the argument–effectively–that there’s a difference between talking and connecting and that, despite all of the forms of communication available to us, writing letters and notes still provides us with an opportunity to express our thoughts and feelings in an undistracted, meaningful way.  Writing letters, she asserts, lets you reconnect with feelings you may otherwise brush aside in a busy world and allows you to share those feelings with important people in your life.

I think Isaac’s first chapter particularly stuck with me because I’d been thinking a lot about the power of letters lately.  During my recent trip to France, as I stood bleary-eyed in the alien-feeling, all concrete, people-moving-tube-filled Charles de Gaulle airport, I noticed a sign directing people to connecting flights:

The word correspondence meant “connection” in French.  Of course!  In English, we often use the term “writing letters,” but that seems to fall short in describing the act.  Sure, we’re writing letters (in both senses of the word–the members of the 26-character alphabet and the collections of them into words and sentences to create the missive by the same name).  But what we’re really trying to do is connect with someone else.  That’s the point rather than the act of writing or the physical result (though both are admittedly pleasant on their own). Correspondence can sound a bit old fashioned, but it is a much more accurate term for the whole process.

We write letters to connect.  And when we don’t write letters and we rely on text messages or phone calls–often done while we’re also busy doing other things–a real, deep connection  eludes us.  But when we sit down and take a moment to connect first with ourselves–how do we feel about something or someone? what’s really important right now?–and then try to convey those thoughts and feelings to someone else–we can achieve something extraordinary.

That is why I write letters and why I think the world would be a better place for all of us if we each took the time to do it more.

P.S. I thought I’d share some random non-snail-mail related photos from my recent trip.  I’ll do this in my next several posts, but only in a P.S. so that those of you who are uninterested know you can move on. 

My first installment is for those of you who have never had the “pleasure” of visiting Charles de Gaulle airport’s Terminal 1 in Paris.  Here’s a picture that will give you a feel for how weird it is:

Each of these tubes has a conveyor belt inside that moves you slowly and a bit disorientingly up an incline.  The conveyor belts themselves are squishy to stand on, making it even more difficult to keep your footing.  Add to that the fact that everything in Terminal 1 is made of depressing concrete and you feel like you’re in a real-life rendition of Terry Gilliam’s movie Brazil (a movie worth a look if you haven’t seen it). 

Oh, and the ominous warning signs didn’t help:

That’s it for now. Future posts will share photos of more inspiring and beautiful images from France, I promise.

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