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Monday, August 15, 2011

The Power of the (Hand)Written Word

Not long ago I was browsing through an antique mall that had a booth with a basket full of old postcards and some other miscellaneous correspondence.  I started to read some of it but felt I had to stop as the content was a bit too personal.  The owner of the antique mall told me that many of the items from that booth had come from an estate sale.  I felt saddened that the postcards had fallen into the hands of strangers and surely should have stayed with family members.  But perhaps I was being reminded of the death of letter-writing and other personal correspondence in this age of email, tweeting and texting.  Aren't there some things that just cannot be communicated electronically?  Haven't the most heartfelt of all feelings always been entrusted to handwritten letters? 
Through conflicts, disasters, terminal illness and suicides, there have always been moments when all that is left is to find the words to reach out to our loved ones.  There have been letters from soldiers for as long as there have been wars.  Holocaust victims often dropped letters from transport trains in the hopes that they would somehow reach their loved ones.  Most of the victims of the Sago Mine disaster and the sailors on the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk were found with some farewell words in their pockets.  In 2007 the final letter from Antarctic explorer Robert Scott who died along with other of his expedition members back in 1912 was made public.  How powerful, how personal, how provocative these final attempts to communicate all are!  What else do we have but words?

For further reading I recommend Lasts Letters to Loved Ones by Rose Rouse, and Final Letters: From Victims of the Holocaust by Reuvin Dafni


  1. I was talking with a friend (in another state) the other day who told me their kids no longer learn cursive writing in school because it's not necessary. I feel sad for this generation because they will not be able to re-read texts or emails 20 years from now. The words of loved ones will be lost forever. Typed correspondence does not have the same impact as a handwritten letter.

  2. I'm with you. Letter writing is a lost art. I try to handwrite letters to friends as often as I can, which isn't anywhere near often enough.