Signed, Sealed, Delivered


Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing is the story of my quest to understand what it is about letters that make them so special. Years ago, when I was a young mother, I discovered a trove of hundred-year old letters in my backyard. The letters had been written by a Princeton freshman in to his mother in the early 1900s. Now I find my own son is heading off to college and I want him to write to me. But will he? Will he write as the Princeton student wrote his mother and as I wrote to my parents? Times have changed. Before I can persuade my child of the value of letters, I must first understand exactly what it is about letters that make them so special.

I set off on a journey through the history of letter writing — from the ancient Egyptians to the medieval lovers Abelard and Heloise, from the letters received by President Lincoln after his son’s death to the correspondence of Edith Wharton and Henry James, from the letters of slaves to the letters of aristocrats, and at the letters of mothers to their sons, and sons to their mothers. I look at the power of letters through epistolary novels, my husband’s love letters, and dozens more sources — including my son’s brief but treasured notes from college.

What do I discover through my journey into thousands of years of letter writing? I find that letters offer proof and legacy of what is most important in life: love and connection. Letters are a way for us to share wisdom and share burdens; a way to come closer together and heal; a way to let the ones we love set out on their own adventures, and keep us with them every step of the way. The qualities most important to any relationship — trust, sharing, compassion, and patience — are just as vital in letter writing. In the end, the letters we write are even more important than the ones we wait for. And the letters we save are a testament to and a celebration of just how much we have lived, loved, and endured.


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