Monday, April 17, 2023

Obituary for a Lost Art

Throughout millennia, she graced the lives of countless people. She made them laugh or weep, nod, grin, sigh with pleasure or burst into angry tears. She enabled relationships, re-kindled old ties, enlivened fading romances, mended broken ones, and broke off those not working. She helped clarify misunderstandings, heal emotional wounds, and declare allegiances.

There was something comforting, almost stately, about her presence. She gave dignity to the harshest of words, integrity to the ugliest situation. She was a constant that could be treasured over a lifetime and beyond. She might in a legacy scrapbook or even put on display in a museum. Conversely, she could be ordered out of one’s sight with a venom that could send her disappearing into the wind in tiny pieces or fiery smoke. Perhaps most often her gentle presence helped transform tumult and fury into mellow acceptance. Tears helped blend her sad words into soft blurs, and her funny words could be repeated or recalled over and over by the simple act of referring to her.

Taking the time to frame written words around an experience can be healing and productive for the person communicating. Rarely does a cutesy cartoon overlaid with “Thanks” convey personal appreciation of a memorable evening at a friend's house. Never does a somber “Sorry to learn of your bereavement” on a preprinted card come close to giving grief the same dignity as do the heartfelt words from the soul and the pen of a communicating friend. Nothing heals both the sender and recipient like a letter that can be held, wept over, laughed about, reread, and tucked away for a second reading later the same day, the next year, or even decades later. 

By the end of the twentieth century she was fading from view. Card companies were marketed to people in a hurry and thrived industry-wide as they stood in for her with cute sentiments and feelings, often expressed in simpleminded verse. As she aged into the twenty-first century, she noticeably  languished and withered from inattention--from not being needed anymore. Modern technology could have saved her, but no one thought to try or really cared. She ceased being glamorous, sexy. This senior monarch of communication faded into obsolescence. 

Tools eager to replace her appeared: Facebook, Twitter, email, Bluetooth. Smart phones and laptops using with Zoom and Teams, Facetime and What's App. Electronically delivered notes and cards proved to be the final blow. Through all these quicker, more immediate and easier options, she could not recover and ultimately met her Maker.

The Art of Letter Writing has passed. R.I.P.

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