My grandmother, on the cusp of her 100th birthday, had sent along a gift in a sealed envelope to be given to my niece at her graduation. And at the party afterward, as the envelope was passed to her, my sister and I both froze, exchanging glances as if to say, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
One of us, I can’t remember which one, said it out loud, so we knew that, indeed, we were on a very similar brainwave.
We’d both been completely struck by Grandma’s writing in the brief moment it had swept past our eyes. No more than a few written words was all, but it was Grandma’s very essence in some inexplicable way.
All those tags she’d slipped onto birthday, Christmas, Easter presents through the years, to us, from her, in her writing, it was her. That was her. Her writing represented her in more ways than either of us had pondered before and it had hit us both square on.
“This is the Grandma you have known,” it seemed to say. “This is me. Not the person you have seen lately, with distant eyes.” Lately, Grandma seems to come into and go out of this world frequently most days, but her writing, now that seemed very much intact.
Freezing that moment was like holding onto a part of her we thought we’d lost.
It wasn’t the first time I’d been affected so powerfully by handwriting. A few months earlier our cousin Greg had sent a note through the mail the old-fashioned way. In these days, handwritten snail mail stands out as something special, especially, perhaps, for those of us who have lived in times past when this was the primary way to communicate on paper; before smooth electric typewriters and computer processors and ipads and all the other ways we tap out our words.
When I opened the envelope and unfolded the note, I stopped breathing for a moment. Greg’s handwriting was as close to my father’s as any I’d ever seen.
Dad had been gone only a little over a year, but it was as if he were standing right beside me. It was in the way he forms his B’s, and all the capitals, and the R’s, exactly like Dad used to make them.
Is handwriting inherited, I wondered? Can it be passed down from uncle to nephew even when they did not grow up in the same space?
I felt both slightly unsettled and deeply comforted all at once. It was a gift, mostly, and I could not deny that.
Realizing the power of the handwritten word anew, I can’t help but wonder, will we lose this? Will the the dying of the handwritten word eliminate the power of words that spring not from a key but from our fingers? Will we no longer be transported in the same way to another moment, and feel as if we are standing next to those we love by a simple gaze at their writing?
Will the humanity in our writing be lost when the written word by hand is no more?
I’d like to think not, but it seems too far gone now. We are knee deep in the digital age, and I am feeling the loss of what was — and in a way the younger generations may never feel. You can’t miss what you’ve never known, after all.
And yet I hope I am wrong. I hope that there will always be a place in this world for a pen pressed into a hand pressed into a piece of paper in order to communicate a thought, one human being to another.
Q4U: What are your thoughts about the handwritten word? Have you ever had an emotional response to handwriting?