Letter Be

By the time this appears in print, Gil’s letter should be almost ready to arrive.

Gil is my stunningly brilliant 6-year-old nephew. (No, it’s not short for Gilbert, and yes, my sister is an Anne of Green Gables fan.) He’s a budding student of the sciences, who once casually pointed out landmarks on the moon and Mars to me during an imaginary space odyssey. His busy hands have built long, elaborate marble runs, followed by long painstaking videos depicting the “races” between the marbles as they swerve and roll.

And now Mister Gil has discovered the epistolary art.

“Dear Anut Heathr/Uncle Scott/Missy,” he opened in carefully handwritten crayon, with animal and robot stickers decorating each line. “Wut things are you doing? And wut book are you reading? How is the weather? Please wriet back.”

My own response is finally ready for him. I say “finally” because … well, this is an admission that doesn’t come easily to a professional writer. This is between you, me, and a few thousand other readers, OK?

The fact is, I’m terrible at personal letters.

I know, it doesn’t make much sense. I’ve been a columnist for years. I can write news stories and PR pieces easily. And I’m quick to jump on emails, social media, and all the other communications tools of the 21st century. Easy.

But good old-fashioned mail? Too often, my brain resembles a kindergarten playground, trying to get everyone to line up properly and get back to class. “Oh, yeah, I need to send that reply out … oh, wait, we’re out of envelopes, I’ll pick some up at the store tomorrow … huh, the old envelope got recycled, I’d better email Carey for the address … OK, I know I have stamps around here somewhere …. “

If this all took place in one sitting, it might not be so bad. But each gets punctuated with occasions of Life Happening and soon “Scott’s Correspondence” has become the next long-running miniseries, complete with episodic cliffhangers. (“Will Scott and his envelope make it to the post office in the same trip?”)

Nonetheless … we’re doing this. Because it’s important to Gil. And therefore it’s important to us.

He’s learning. And all of us in the family want to encourage that. So we write. We click on his YouTube videos. We keep an eye out for books and toys that’ll fuel his interests even further. And we smile as he constantly finds more for us to encourage.

After all, when you reward behavior, you tend to see more of it.

That’s true for most people, whether we’re talking 6-year-olds or congressmen. Oh, granted, the 6-year-olds usually aren’t as stubborn and willful as the politicians (I blame a lack of regular naps and the occasional time-out), but the principles are the same. Communicate. Show up. Be clear. Encourage. Don’t stop. Packing a town hall or filling up a voice mail box may not be as cute as attending a school program, but it’s part of the same idea.

Smart politicians know this. The ones that forget sometimes become unemployed politicians.

And the best part is, it shapes you too. It makes you a better voter. A better relative. Maybe even a better letter-writer.

What you touch, touches you. And both can be better for the experience.

If you’re lucky, you’ll even get some cool robot stickers out of the deal.

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