I’ve written a series of letters recently. Important letters. I didn’t want to send an email. I didn’t want to text. It was not something I wanted to tweet. Or snapchat. I had important things to say and I wanted to think about it. These were hard, deep thoughts. I wanted it to take time to express them. I wanted to pick up a pen and write out each letter on a piece of paper, letter by letter by letter, word by word, all in my illegible script. I wanted to write a letter to someone important to me.
But I ran into a problem. I couldn’t find paper – stationary – to write my letters on. I went to several stores. Nothing. I went to some of the big box stores – entire aisles devoted to cards, rows and rows of thank you notes and notes for this occasion and notes for that celebration. But in a neglected end of one of the aisles, I finally found four boxes of writing paper and envelopes, four variations on the same theme of a colored band around the edges of a nondescript grey paper. That was my choice.
I looked in other stores and it was the same. What this tells me, if the law of supply and demand is determining what our venders offer in terms of stationary, is that nobody is writing letters anymore. The postal service of course can vouch for this, with letter carriers burdened by bills and adverts, but hardly a real, content-rich letter finding its way to any mailboxes in the neighborhood. When did this happen?
I used to write letters, and treasure the ones I got in the mail. From parents, from friends, from girlfriends, from aunts and uncles, from grandparents. I had boxes of them. And then they stopped coming. Sometime in the 1990s, about the time I discovered email. The result is I have thousands of mostly chit chat level messages in my email inbox that I will probably never read again, but almost no letters. I made a similar transition from writing out my sermons to using a word processor, again around 1994 after a generous church member donated one of the early Mac laptops to me. So of my 480 or so sermon manuscripts, about 200 are written out by hand, and the rest look like term papers. I remember it being a hard transition to make. Writing things out slowed me down, gave me a chance to think things through. It felt like I had to learn a new way of composing when I began using a word processor. I didn’t like it. But I adjusted.
I finally found some paper on which to write a letter. But I had to really look hard for something that might work. Just think about it. After hundreds of years, even several thousand years, are we witnessing the end of letters? The demise of writing?