“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”

– Harriet Beecher Stowe

I recently wrote a letter to a person who was a very important part of my childhood and young adult life. Though we rarely visit or talk anymore, and she is reaching an age of goodbyes, she still holds, and always will hold, a special place in my heart and mind. I cannot, looking back, imagine growing up without her. The letter was handwritten on stationery and sent in the mail.

I have a few e-mail accounts, using them for most all correspondence these days. I rarely talk on the phone, a reflection, I suppose, of my personality, plus I typically have a monkey or two yelling for me in the background. Text messaging has become another convenient and accepted form of communication, which I use often as well. In fact, my parents have taken to sending me quick messages now and then, just to say hi.

When my younger sister was a teenager, she was among the first generation of youth using instant messaging. I remember her out in the hallway at all hours of the night, typing away. Each outgoing message and subsequent response was signaled by little pinging noises, as she carried on numerous conversations. Now that most young people are using exclusively some form of instant communication, I guess the old-fashioned written notes we used to pass around in class are now extinct.

These digital forms of communication, which I find sufficient and even desirable for most day-to-day interactions, are ironically kindling feelings of connecting with people in a more primitive way, the way we (humans) used to communicate: a written note or letter. While my generation has been swept up in the age of instant communication and online social networking, I am afraid we are slowly losing something very important and fundamental to our nature.

One of the great challenges of the human condition is the act of communicating with one another. While we have many ways to do so, it is a learning process to find the right language to say what is on our minds; to find the right words to convey our thoughts and emotions, to preserve them, as they were in our mind. Certain things may not translate well, depending on the method we choose; however, a cursive hand on soft cotton paper flows ably with the waves of thought and tides of emotion.

The mail is so often filled with only bills and advertisements, which makes a personal note even more special, received with great anticipation, not unlike a gift. After all, my hands touched that paper, it was on my desk; now it is in your hands. The letter holds an emotional weight and visceral presence that a phone call or e-mail cannot match.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate and greatly value the importance of digital communications. Text messaging, instant messaging, e-mail; I would greatly miss thee. However, there are certain times, certain occasions, when only a handwritten letter will do. There may be no specific rule; you will know when it is warranted. If, after being read, you would like your words tucked away in a desk drawer or bedside table, to be found years from now, and reread with nostalgic eyes, perhaps by the original recipient, perhaps by someone of another generation, this may indicate such an occasion.

Jeff Howland lives in Camden.