Who knew? If you didn't know then it's understandable, but there's really no excuse for me--someone who wrote a book on letter writing--not to know. I first learned April was National Card and Letter Writing month last year through a contest Crane and Co. was having called The Letters You Keep. I entered the contest and shortly thereafter I completely forgot about the meaning of the month. I was reminded again just last week when Crane and Co. asked me to be a guest judge for this year's contest. I proudly accepted and solemnly swore never again to forget what April means for letter writers.
The Letters You Keep contest invites people to tell stories about the letters they've held onto over the years--those that still tug at their heartstrings to this day. The letter I told of last year was one sent to me by a boy I had a weeklong fling with at summer camp when I was in high school. My letter didn't deserve to win in the face of the actual winner and two runner-ups, but the simple missive means the world to me, and I feel like I win a prize every time I read it. Needless to say, I won't be entering The Letters You Keep contest this year. I do, however, encourage all of you to enter (rules will be posted on crane.com soon) AND to keep writing letters. If you're wondering what good letters could possibly do in the age of all things digital, here are my top five reasons to whip out pen and paper:
1. The Test of Time - Provided you don't tear up your box of love letters in the face of a bad break up, you will have them your whole life. Your grandchildren can find them in the attic someday, and they'll then meet a young version of you who they never knew. Much of what we know of history comes from letters. Letters are a chance for all of us to leave a legacy.
2. The Sincerity Factor - Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of e-mail and the occasional text message, but they don't take much time. The people we love are worth our time and effort. A letter is a tangible testament to how much the recipient means to us or how grateful we are for something that person has done (a la thank-you notes).
3. Let the Language Live On - We have access to English--a lovely, complicated language--and we rely on short, clumsy acronyms and emoticons to express ourselves. Which would you prefer?
A text message that says: I Luv U
A letter that says: My dear Girl I love you ever and ever without reserve. The more I have known you the more have I loved. In every way--even my jealousies have been agonies of love, in the hottest fit I ever had I would have died for you. (Excerpt from a letter written by John Keats in March 1820).
4. I Hate Junk Mail - Don't you? A handwritten envelope found amidst catalogs and credit card bills is the equivalent of a still-cold canteen in the middle of the desert. It's refreshing and gives you reason to keep going.
5. Letters Save Lives - Amnesty International has effectively used letters to plead on behalf of human rights for over 40 years. The Global Aids Alliance Web site also asks its visitors to write letters to local government officials and heads of states. They offer e-mail as an option but suggest that printed letters send a stronger message. They provide form letters but also implore, "Please write your own letter--your words are more powerful than a form letter!"