This year we should all go a little bit postal
In 1945, an intelligence officer wrote a letter to his three-year-old son on Hitler’s personal stationery.
“The man who might have written on this card once controlled Europe,” he wrote in elegant cursive. “Today he is dead, his memory despised, his country in ruins.”
Last year, the letter became a permanent addition to the CIA’s private museum in Langley.
It sits as a reminder of the power of the handwritten letter – something often overlooked in our social media-dominated age.
Today’s equivalent would probably be sending your boy an email from Gaddafi’s personal account, which I would like to think is “LinkinPark_Daddy22@gmail.com”.
“Son,” the spook would hurriedly type. “I’m sending this from Gaddafi’s email account – a great moment in history. Should I CC (BCC?) in your brother? I probably should, right? How do I do that? Macros? What the hell is a macro? Oh God, why did I click that? OK, control-C, then control-V. ‘Shoes! Prada Gucci Gucci sunglasses singles in your area 75 per cent off Beijing singles Viagra dolphin rides quality cleaning products’. Love, Dad.”
As we race to help the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world expand their homes and fortunes, we tend to forget the power of the humble letter.
My lack of letter-writing, for instance, has meant I have never had to improve the childish scrawl I call “handwriting”.
It is akin to what a doctor would produce while sitting in the dark and writing out prescriptions… for himself.
Older folk, both male and female, tend to have beautiful handwriting that sits somewhere on the attractive scale between calligraphy and Rachel Weisz in everything.
They’ve perfected their strokes because when they say something, they want you to know they mean it, damnit.
No lazy email with a bunch of missed capitals and rushed punctuation.
No. When Grandma writes to tell you thank you for the wonderful birthday card, she’s not screwing around. She’s pistol-whipping you with the business end of some hardcore truth.
Letters, once yellowed and crumpled, effortlessly add mystery to the mundane.
Even something as simple as a shopping list can seem enigmatic and wonderful on paper. “How interesting - this gentleman has included three distinct types of egg on this list”. It’s quaint, curious. Via email, people are more likely to ask why “this jerk-off has three types of eggs on his list?”
We rarely keep emails. But we tend to keep letters. They convey the specks of personality that a computer monitor cannot.
You miss out on those handwritten strokes - those ticks and oddities preserved in ink that reveal the depths of a person’s madness or the strength of their spirit.
They are replaced by cold, mechanical fonts – each letter exactly as the one before it.
Emails are wonderful, but they encourage a sort of brevity best reserved for bursts of gossip between colleagues. Too often, they are misplaced, deleted, intangible – lost to museums and grandchildren.
When we hold a letter in our hand and examine our thoughts, we can feel their weight.
We tend to be more honest, more direct.
Our fears and desires are given mass.
They don’t exist on some server thousands of miles away as zeros and ones, tended by guys with thick-rimmed glasses and ironic tee shirts.
There is commitment behind them - no impulsive click of the mouse. A steady hand marked the page and creased the paper. A clear mind re-read the words, examined the tone and, satisfied, slipped it into an envelope and carefully wrote an address and affixed a stamp.
It is deliberate, sincere.
This year, we should all make an effort to write a letter (even if it’s not on Hitler’s personal stationery).
At the very least, it’ll force me to write legibly.
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