The Last Letter

The Last Letter

“Dear folks, Well you can just call me lucky, for at about 2:30 today I became a United States Marine.” The box is full of letters from a Marine to his family waiting at home in the early 1950’s. All these years later, the handwritten letters are treasured more than any store-bought item sent from abroad could be. Dickinson and I are in agreement that letters keep people alive forever, and I feel as if a part of my father is still with me.

I have a small metal hoop that is full from the hook to the eye of notes I’ve received through the years. I love to write letters, I love to receive letters, and I appreciate all we can learn about people through the letters they’ve written — about ourselves, too.

There is value in writing, actually picking up a pen or pencil and putting it against a piece of paper to create words. It’s science that tells me there is a unique neural circuit activated when we write, and so, breaking with my usual way of typing my words for an article, I am writing long-hand. Again, the research says that this thing I enjoy so much is actually good for my brain, and who doesn’t want to keep their brain healthy?

Whether or not you enjoy writing letters, I encourage you to sit down with a piece of paper (notebook paper works well) and a pen and began to write. Maybe you’ll dash off a quick note to your friend from childhood.

Dear Sheri, I was watching a rerun of The Partridge Family the other day and laughed thinking of how we both wanted to be Susan Dey when we were kids.

Perhaps, you’ll want to write a note to the people who live in the house with the beautiful flowers that you drive past each day on the way to work.

Dear neighbor, As I hurry to work each day, my mind is on a thousand things, but as soon as I reach your yard, I find that I am calmer and smiling seeing the beautiful flowers you have. You must spend a lot of time in the flower bed, and I want you to know that strangers appreciate your efforts.

There are so many reasons to send a note or write in a journal about the happenings of life that you are seeing, and the time spent writing will be greatly appreciated by the reader, maybe 100 years from now.

Writings provide a view of life during another time. While the history book might give us the factual information of a period of time, it is the letters and diaries that give us a glimpse into the life of a person living then. Not every life will look the same, so it is important that we can be exposed to as many points of view as possible.

Anne Frank received a diary when she was 13, in 1942. When she died in 1945, she left behind a diary full of writings about the events unfolding before her, along with short stories she hoped to publish one day. Her father was the only survivor of the family and honored her by publishing those. Imagine the history we would be missing without her perspective.

Abraham Lincoln’s many papers, including a beautifully handwritten Bill to Abolish Slavery (1849) are kept safely in the Library of Congress thanks to the efforts of his son, Robert. Through these writings, we are able to see much more of what was taking place at the time than a news story of a thousand words would have offered.

In my own history books is a letter that begins like this, “Dear Mrs. Steen, About a year and a half ago you paid for my hotel room for a night during my relapse. I was dishonest with myself and you at the time…” Of course, I have saved this letter, and the cash that was repaid me, for several years. Every time I pull it out of the drawer, I am reminded of the beautiful soul on the other end of that pen, who tore a sheet from a legal pad to make amends to me. Neither the note nor the cash was necessary, but the heart that wrote the note traveled some dark roads, and the piece of paper reminds me that he came through it to find himself. Oh, yes, the value of a letter!

“Dear Mom and Dad, you should probably frame this, as it will be the last letter before I come home.” It was letter 147 from that Marine as he headed home, having served in the Korean Conflict. Reading through the letters, it is clear he matured, he saw war, he saw death, and he shared with every reader to follow a moment in time like no other. This is your time to pick up a pen and a piece of paper — it doesn’t have to be fancy. The simple act of writing will activate that neural connection for you and will allow you to live forever in the eyes of every reader ever happening upon it. Maybe you will read this on the most special of days, and you will find yourself looking through old letters and diaries to connect with people you have loved and writing to connect with people you might never know.

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