Tess Gerritsen left a
successful practice as an internist to raise her children and
concentrate on her writing. She gained nationwide acclaim for her first
novel of medical suspense, the New York Times bestseller Harvest. She is
also the author of the bestsellers Life Support, Bloodstream, Gravity, and The Surgeon. Tess lives with her family in Maine. (PHOTO CREDIT: Paul D’Innocenzo) –as appeared her blog.
The Dying Letter
I am still stinging with shame about a letter I just received. It
came from one of my old high school teachers, a man with whom I have
corresponded over the decades. Every Christmas, I’d send him a personal
letter about my year, and every summer, I’d mail him an autographed copy
of my newest book.
About six months ago, he wrote me a long, long letter sharing all the
latest in his life. I set it on my desk, with every intention of
replying. Because he doesn’t do email, I would have to actually write a
letter and send it snail mail, so I delayed the task until I had a bit
of time. The trouble was, time got away from me. I had to proof-read the
galleys of my book, then I had to leave for China to bring my mother’s
ashes to her hometown, then I went on book tour, followed by weeks of
travel for various speaking engagements. In the meantime, that letter
from my teacher got buried under other accumulating mail. I never did
write him back.
A few days ago, after returning from my latest trip, I found a new
letter from him in the bin of mail that the US Postal Service had held
for me in my absence. He was hurt and upset that I had not answered his
earlier letter. He asked if our friendship was dead. He assumed it must
be, because I hadn’t responded, nor had I sent him my latest book. I
immediately mailed him a book and a card of apology, but I’m still
having sleepless nights about it. And I’m mulling over why, exactly, I
didn’t write back sooner.
My crazy schedule is one reason. But a bigger reason, I think, is how
much I’ve come to rely on email as a primary mode of correspondence, a
convenience that’s so quick and immediate that it makes old-fashioned
letter writing seem like a burden. Every morning, when I sit down to
catch up on messages, I answer my email first. As tasks go, it’s the
low-hanging fruit, something you can speedily accomplish. Letter
writing? That feels like a far more ponderous task, so I put it off. And
I put it off.
I, and people like me, are responsible for the impending death of the
snail-mail letter. In this era of “Faster! Faster!”, we feel the
urgency of accomplishing everything at top efficiency. We feel too
harried to actually write with pen and paper, address the envelope,
affix a stamp, and bring it to the post office.
And that’s a shame. Because years from now, all our emails, all those
quickly dashed bits of information rendered to the electronic ether,
won’t be around to enlighten our descendants. The death of the
handwritten letter means that we, too — our thoughts, our memories, the
way we press pen to paper — will vanish forever when we’re gone.