There’s nothing inherently wrong with efficiency, but I worry that we’ve taken it a bit too far – we now live in an age where people can have entire conversations using only emojis. Think about that: we actually pursue communication that is barely a step above hieroglyphics.
And while this efficiency is beneficial, sure, it's also hindered our cognizance of relational value. We’ve written before about the importance of handwriting thank-you notes, bypassing the perfunctory in place of the personal. But there are notes and letters to be written beyond those times when you receive a gift. You have – I'd hope, at least – relationships that go beyond acquaintances and casual friends, and sometimes these people deserve the impactful gesture of a handwritten letter.
To Your Significant Other
My wife started a new job today. Naturally, she was elated and a little nervous. Last night before we fell asleep, she said, “I was kind of hoping you’d do something cute for my first day.” I said, “Oh really? Like, stick a nice note in your car or something?” She nodded. “Well…" I said, "it’s already done.” This really happened, and yes, I felt like James Bond.
I can tell my wife every day that I love her and that she’s beautiful, but there's more power in prose. And if I’m honest, what I’m able to say in a given moment barely scratches the surface of what she deserves to hear. My wife encourages me to vent when I’ve had a bad day, she brags about me to her friends, and she tolerates all of my annoying idiosyncrasies (and any man reading this has annoying idiosyncrasies). I have to remind her that I value who she is and what she brings to my life: not because she’s doing me a favor by sticking around, but because we chose each other and continue to choose each other every day.
But most days, it doesn’t occur to me to say all of that. So once in a while, a note left on her steering wheel or in her purse suffices.
To Your Kid(s)
The day that I found out I was going to be a father, I wrote my future child a letter. It wasn’t grandiose, and it was far from poetic. The first sentence is: “I’m pretty sure I’m not ready for this.” And at the time, it was exactly how I felt.
Each month since Izzy was born, I write her another one. Sometimes it’s a full page; sometimes it’s three or four sentences because it’s midnight and she’s already woken up twice because of a cough or a bad dream, and I can barely keep my eyes open. I tell Izzy what stage of life she and I are both in. I tell her why I’m proud of her that month, and sometimes if she’s been driving me crazy, I tell her that too (though I keep it lighthearted).
To be clear, you don’t actually have to have a kid to write your kid a letter. Write a letter to your future kid. Tell them about yourself, about your passions, your hobbies, your strengths and weaknesses. And if you don’t want kids, then hey, skip this one.
To a Former Teacher
I’d like to go on a tirade now about how teachers are the world’s most underappreciated professionals, but I’ll resist that urge and keep this one short. In all your years of education, you had at least one teacher who deserves recognition. Tell them, and keep it short, like this:
Dear Mr./Ms. So-and-so,
Thank you for what you do. You made a positive impact on my life.
I promise you’ll make their whole year.
To Your Coworker
Most of my best friends are teachers with whom I’ve worked over the years. Our relationships are full of social gatherings, professional collaboration, laughter, celebration, and some rich, robust arguments. They're people who I rely on to keep my sanity throughout the day, my fellow mice wandering through the maze.
A few years back I wrote a note to each member of my department; I told them what I appreciated about them and how working with them specifically had made me a better teacher. I heard back from ten of those twelve people, and each of them was flattered that someone had even noticed the work they were doing. Because most managers don’t affirm their employees as much as the employees need or deserve, sometimes you have to take care of each other – and for me, the letters accomplished that.
Of course, a letter of this nature depends on the culture of your specific workplace. As a teacher, my job is inherently relational, so this type of letter from a colleague is a welcome encouragement. But for a lawyer or a tax accountant, maybe not so much.
Sure, there are times when a text or email is the appropriate move. I don’t need to send my wife a piece of certified mail to let her know I’m picking up the kids after work. But when the time comes to offer someone recognition, the letter conveys value. It says “I’m singling you out because you matter for a specific reason.” So buy a box of decent stationery, grab a worthy pen (as in, one that didn’t come in a three-pack), and start writing.