Saturday, June 20, 2015

A LOST ART

Almost no one writes longhand letters anymore. That includes me — partly because my handwriting has always been an atrocious scrawl, made worse by the stroke, but mostly because of the requirements. I'm sure there is writing paper somewhere in this apartment, and if I search long enough I'll be able to track down a pen. But my phone is right here and it's easier to type and send. No ink smears on the page from this lefty. No stamp required.

But I miss the retro allure of a handwritten letter — especially when the words are expressing love and devotion. No matter how perfect the flowers, a bouquet withers. A love letter lingers. You can trace your fingers along the grooves of the words, imagine the emotions the writer felt as he pressed pen against paper.

I haven't written or received a love letter in years. The last ones I had I returned to the author, in a vain attempt to keep the relationship going. "If I can't convince you that this matters," I said, holding out the (very small) stack to her, "then maybe you can convince yourself." After she moved out I found them in the trash, alongside the letters I had written her. For a moment I thought about retrieving them and putting them in a safe place, bundled and tied with a ribbon. But there weren't that many to begin with, and the pages were already stained with the drippings from some half-eaten meal.

That never happens with emails.

They may not be as romantic, but there are advantages to digital love letters. No clumsy penmanship. They don't take up closet space. If the romance fades and the letters are tossed, they won't burden the trash man or clog the landfill. Best of all, the sender never even knows they've been trashed. In cyberspace, no one can hear a deleted email scream.

I know a guy who sends daily love letters to his beloved. One a day, at least, and sometimes more when he's inspired. He has been doing this for months now; he says being able to write to her is the highlight of his day. I leave it to you to decide if he's a hopeless romantic or a supreme goob.

They're emails but he says it doesn't matter — it's the devotion that counts. He says she has kept the letters, now numbering close to 200, and he doesn't plan to stop until he drops. Given his age and their relationship, I won't be surprised if he manages at least 10,000 more.

For their sake I hope she one day prints them out and puts them in a bundle, and ties the stack neatly with a ribbon. Twenty, 30, 50 years from now their children will stumble across those letters in the attic. They will undo the bow and start to read. They won't be able to trace the handwritten ridges on the paper. But maybe they will feel the emotions, the grooves left on the hearts of the writer and the reader. They will never think of their parents in the same way again.

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