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Tell it to me in a letter

I just read (in a magazine that arrived three weeks ago -- don't throw 'em until you've read 'em) that the U.S. Postal Service reports that the average box holder receives a personal letter only once every seven weeks. Is that terrible or is it just another sign of the changing times?

It's both -- it is terrible and it is a sign of the changing times. But this is not a knock on e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Google, CaringBridge, Classmates, or any of the other 200 or so social networking websites (not counting dating sites). These are positive points on the scoreboard of communications between human beings. They're wonderful. For example, if you want to talk to somebody about running or swimming, connect with Athlinks and you'll find 139,458 athletes waiting to talk to you. If you want to talk with the Norwegian community, has 430,000 who would love to hear from you.

Along with those advances in the field of communications, there have been shortcuts (in spelling, expression, complete sentences, intimacy, privacy and many more). But one of the chief losses has been the loss of the private, intimate personal letter between friends and families.

John Adams (1735 - 1826) was our second president. Before that he was a delegate to our First Continental Congress, Commissioner to France, Minister to Great Britain and Vice-President. He was married to Abigail Adams, but he spent long spans of time away from home. John and Abigail wrote back and forth to one another almost daily. Abigail was widely read and she wrote lively accounts of people, events and colonial life. The pair wrote love letters as well and they were saved at both ends. These letters have been a source of information for an important chapter in our colonial history. Don't call me out-of-touch if I suggest that very little history of our current era will be written on the basis of tweets on Twitter (twttr).

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927 - 2003) was an American scholar, statesman and politician who worked under Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and India and was a U.S. Senator from New York between 1976 and 2000. He wrote 19 books ("He wrote more books than most senators have read." commented George Will), but never got around to writing an autobiography. But he was also a prodigious writer of letters. He wrote letters to presidents, world leaders, athletes, celebrities and even one to a hotel demanding a refund of the $1 charged to him for a phone call he never made. The letters of Moynihan, 664 pages of them, have been collected and published in "Daniel Patrick Moynihan, A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary." Whether or not you agreed with the politics of Moynihan, you have to agree that his letters are part of the history of his era.

What about your history, my history? Some years ago Gregg Vaughn's father died. He later discovered his dad's rusty old tackle box in his garage and realized it was the only tangible thing left to remind him of dad. Thinking about it, he decided that as a father, he should try to do better than that. As a result, he wrote a book, "Letters From Dad." The idea was that if the dad in a family, young or old, suddenly died, what tangible evidence would his wife and children have of how he felt about them. He recommended that each dad first write a letter to his wife expressing his love, his faith and his innermost feelings about his entire family. Then, a letter to each of his children, big or little, individually, about what that child means to dad. The letters are not to be held until death but delivered or mailed and opened immediately. He said he knows from experience the letters will bring great happiness, some tears and they will be saved. Some churches have created a men's seminar out of "Letters From Dad."

The thing that letters achieve that rarely happens with phone calls, tweets, e-mails or whatever else you choose, is that they dig deeper into the heart of the folks who write them and deeper into the hearts of those that receive them. Will the art of personal letter writing die? I hope not. Wouldn't it be great to get a personal letter once every week? I'd love it, and there probably is a way to do it -- write one.