Once there was nothing but paper and pen. Not so long ago (a little over a decade), before the email, the text, the tweet, or the Facebook post, there was simply paper and pen.
Think about how special it feels when you get an actual hand-written note in the mail. When you were a child and wrote that super-secret note to your pen pal, covering the envelope in stickers – think of the pure excitement when a response finally arrived. When I was young and corresponded with friends, summer camp bunk-mates, or cousins, I remember watching as they grew and their handwriting changed: a visual representation that we were getting older. As we moved through junior high and high school, the passing of the note in class became high art. As we got older, silly little love notes were left under car windshield wipers, tucked into coat pockets, left on pillows. Some were sappy, some embarrassing, some beautiful – all with one intent: to express affection.
But, at some point we stopped.
We stopped writing letters and started communicating in other, less personal ways. Today, a hand-written “thank you” note makes the recipient feel special. Christmas cards with real, personal inscriptions are so rare these days. Postcards from a road trip are almost non-existent. But, if these short, written sentiments mean so much to those who receive them, then why have we stopped?
It could be argued that the earliest love letters can be found on cave drawings. Some other early love letters were epistles, love letters of a sort, describing the writer’s love for a Christ. However, the earliest documented romantic love letter dates to 1477 and was written between Margery Brews and her fiancée, John Paston.
Throughout history, love letters have a personal, intimate way to express your innermost feelings with that special someone whom you love. There is something about putting pen to paper that makes the sentiment ring truer and that suggests a secret between two people – something shared from one person to another; something that no one else really knows. I would imagine that a letter to a soldier from his sweetheart means just as much today as it did sixty years ago.
Truly, we have no shortage of source material to draw upon. Beethoven wrote masses of letters to his still-unknown “Immortal Beloved.” Letters to this person were found in his desk when he died. Napoleon wrote to his wife, Josephine, “My one and only Josephine, apart from you there is no joy; away from you, the world is a desert where I am alone and cannot open my heart.” According to his family, famed basketball coach John Wooden would write a love letter to his wife on the 21st of each month, even after her passing. Perhaps some of the most prolific love letter writers were Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe, who were together for 30 years and left an incredible 5,000 love letters to history.
Perhaps it is time to temporarily put aside the digital communication devices. Let’s resurrect the love note as part of the every day. It isn’t required that the subject be romantic or that you become a classic poet. Start simply – draw a picture on your child’s lunch bag or leave a silly note inside. Send flowers to a sick co-worker and sign the card yourself, if possible. Put a “thank you” note in your mail box for the mail carrier. Leave a note on your sweetheart’s pillow just to say, “I love you.” Better yet, drop that note in the mail so that he or she can feel the childlike excitement of ripping open that special letter – not knowing what’s inside. A physical, not electronic or ethereal, manifestation of how you feel. Something you can touch – something that lasts.