Sealed With A . . .Digital Signature?

I have loved writing letters, real letters, ever since I can remember. I used to send away for multiple pen pals and relished in each letter I received, and in return, could write. When I was away at college, working at summer camps, and for a bit after I moved to California, my aunt and I would write letters to each other. For some reason or another, we don’t do this so much anymore.

I miss receiving and answering handwritten letters. On paper. Sent through the post.

Remember when this was a place to find something interesting? Perhaps a letter from a friend, a card from a relative, or maybe even a small package containing goodies to enjoy? And not just the place for the mail carrier to shove flyers proclaiming “30% off sectional couches” and “buy one get one half-off” ads? I like my mailbox, I just rarely get anything worth opening it for.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the internet and email. It is convenient and makes many things in life possible that wouldn’t normally be (hello, this blog). However, since when did informal, mass groupings become the norm? When did we stop putting the personal touch on correspondence? When did a Facebook status update broadcast to hundreds of people become our form of “communicating?” That doesn’t seem much like communication to me.

I suppose people are busier, or perhaps they just make less time for those personal touches. We fall into a mundane “this is easier” routine of those status updates or the group emails rather than sit down and focus our thoughts for each individual.

Giddy impatience still grips me when finding a letter in my mailbox. I wander over the envelope, the addresses announcing the players in this legible conversation, the appropriately placed postage, and the ink from whizzing through the postal machine, bearing the envelope’s journey. Is it a small envelope, a long one, or is it sent in letter folding form? No matter how you open your letter, a letter opener, tearing off the end, or ripping the top in a jagged manner, there’s nothing quite like the sound and the feel of the envelope, and that moment before you get the first peek at the letter.

The first touch of the paper, or note card, is telling. What has the author used? Is it notebook paper, is it delicate stationary, or a humorous card? How has it been folded? Was it hastily bent to fit in the envelope? Was great care taken to make it clean and crisp? Opening the paper to see those words sprawled across the page are joyous. What thoughts or news has the author dared to share with you? Is it an “update letter” to let you know how things are in their life and what they’ve been doing? Or is it more intimate, a therapeutic exploration of a specific subject or life in general?

That brings me to a branch of the letter writing topic, love letters. These have been replaced by the dispassionate and emotionless text. I suppose when your guy or girl takes the time to send that text reading, “I miss u” or “can’t wait to c u” it is a nice gesture. They did think of you, and isn’t it the thought that counts? I’m impressed with any thought or effort, but how about nixing the shortcut through spelling and grammar, and making a full-fledged assertion of how much that person means to you? Seriously, guys, if you write a girl a handwritten letter, even a note, you will be elevated to swoon status, pretty much immediately. If you wouldn’t know what to write, don’t over think it. It doesn’t have to be freely flowing prose, just be genuine.

Along those lines though, if you feel more inclined to profess some real feelings, take a cue from some great love letters of the past. One of my favorite books, and gracing my book shelves, is Love Letters of Great Men and Women: From the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day by C. H. Charles. These are all letters written by historical figures from the 18th century up to 1910. Admittedly some of them are quite boring, but most of them are alluring nourishment for the sentimental soul and longing heart. Real people wrote these. They are not made up for a movie or story, the feelings and sentiments existed and were related to another.To express oneself in this manner on paper must be exquisitely freeing.

My favorite, probably because I could relate it to a time in my life, is from Count Gabriel Honore de Mirabeau to Madame Sophie de Mounier:

 . . . Alas! I well know, I should know too well, since the three months that I sigh, far away from thee, that I possess thee no more, than my happiness has departed. However, when every morning I wake up, I look for you, it seems to me that half of myself is missing, and that is too true.

Who knew this guy and I could relate on something?

Twenty times during the day, I ask myself where you are; judge how strong the illusion is, and how cruel it is to see it vanish. When I go to bed, I do not fail to make room for you; I push myself quite close to the wall and leave a great empty space in my small bed. This movement is mechanical, these thoughts are involuntary. Ah! how one accustoms oneself to happiness.

Alas! one only knows it well when one has lost it, and I’m sure we have only learnt to appreciate how necessary we are to each other, since the thunderbolt has parted us. The source of our tears has not dried up, dear Sophie; we cannot become healed; we have enough in our hearts to love always, and, because of that, enough to weep always.

Now, that’s a love letter.

Quill pens, ink wells, and professed embittered love aside, letters are a satisfying way to share a connection with someone. A connection that is singular and concentrated. Not only do letters make the receiver feel special, someone took the time to think of them specifically, but the one who pens it gets benefits as well. Putting pen to paper takes effort, it takes thought, it hones the process in your brain so you truly figure out what and how you want to say it. Computers and phone make it very easy to erase and throw words together, and even make it possible to send multiple messages quickly without even getting a response from the other person, but this just makes for inefficient thoughts and expressions. Writing the letter and making sure that is what you want to send, what you want the other person’s eyes to fall upon, is an intricate process. As is the waiting, waiting for it to arrive, to be answered, and that answer to be delivered to you.

There must be someone out there you want to write a letter to, grab your pen (or quill) and adorn that paper with convictions and declarations untold (or just ask them how they’ve been), and help the struggling post office out by slapping a postage stamp on that envelope and sending it out into the great big world. It doesn’t have to be sealed with a kiss, but at least it will be sealed with thought and a conveyance of sincere interest.

*Mailbox photo Felixco, Inc. /

*Quill/ink well & Old Letter photos Simon Howden /

10 thoughts on “Sealed With A . . .Digital Signature?

  1. A handwritten note in a letter, has gone the way of the eight track player, the milkman that used to leave milk in a bottle with cream at the top, on the doorstep and the iceman that used to leave a block of ice, for our refrigerator.

    Next to go will be the Christmas card. People will be sending one Christmas card to all of their internet friends, saving many dollars in postage and do it by hitting one key.


  2. So true! I just found a letter that my best friend wrote to me years ago and I still hold onto it because it was so rare to get a handwritten letter. It means so much more. Doesn’t even compare to texting.


  3. You have inspired me. There is someone with whom I email frequently but they never reply to my handwritten letters. I’m going to cut a new quill, shake my ink, and try again. Another wonderful post.


  4. My terrible handwriting deters me from writing a letter, I can’t even read my own notes I take down at work, my customers must think I am terrible since I can never return their calls and answer queries since I have no idea what I wrote down!


  5. Another great tradition that has slowly faded away. Andrew pretty much responded as I feel on the subject. The Christmas Card is still appreciated in our household – we love getting them and we love sending them…including putting that very real, very adhesive stamp on all of ’em!


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