Better than a text, better than a phone call and, yes, even better than a Facebook update: a letter.
Really? This, coming from an 18-year old? A teenager from this generation actually appreciates handwritten thoughts delivered on tangible paper? I do. I do so much that I keep every hand written note, birthday card, and letter of congratulations. I keep them because they represent life. They are a sampling of the people around me and, for once, I get a portion of their thoughts on paper. Thoughts true enough to be written in ink and sincere enough to be written on paper. In a world with fast and abbreviated communication, it is the letters and cards I have kept that mean the most to me.
Cleaning some things in my room, I decided to go through two boxes of correspondence. It was a quick walk through life. Cards from the family, notes written from camps and birthday wishes marking every year since my friends could manage to write a happy birthday note. These short messages inside crayon drawings, or the long notes from mom and dad, take me back to different years. They are a capsule to past moments; they are symbols of love.
It has never been all right in my immediate family to use a Hallmark card for birthdays. The cards will be homemade and thoughtful, predictable in each person’s unique style. Dad will use a picture of a nature scene he likes or use a sheet from his yellow legal pad. This is accompanied by roughly a page of sincere thoughts written in cursive by his silver breast-pocket pen. Mom’s card will have a focus on the hand drawn cover design, using an image of me from her head or a memory. The inside is simple, with carefully chosen words. Birthday cards from my brother are always artistic with brief yet natural and loving notes, avoiding clichés or the usual birthday repertoire. Receiving gifts alone would be a mean joke; these cards are the best part of a McMenamin birthday.
Even with hundreds of fonts, a computer cannot match the tight loops in my dad’s cursive. Hallmark cannot know the specific memory my mom will draw and they certainly don’t know the inside joke my brother will reference. While these birthday cards are a highlight, there are other letters of importance too. The letters I received from Afghanistan when I was in middle school are some of the most important. My dad was serving in the National Guard and I didn’t see him for almost a year and a half. These letters were as close as I would get. Pictures were great, and weekly phone calls were obviously wonderful; but it was the dust you could feel on the paper, the paper that his hands had folded, that helped me be as much in his presence as I possibly could. And that’s the way written sentiments are. They are important enough to get out stationary or make homemade art. They are in handwriting only one person can design and in a format only one person can create. There is no computer spell check; it is purely from one mind to another. It is as close to someone as you can get, and it is in this form of human connection that I believe lies the most honest and sincere of human expression.