I write in a journal every morning. I love the way my pen feels in my hand moving across the page. There is something magical about fingers clicking keys on the computer keyboard, moving swiftly, trying to keep up with the thoughts as they come to mind. But, I prefer the slower, more deliberate work of writing by hand for my journaling. For some reason, it feels like it's more my own when it's in my own handwriting.
This morning I went to a coffee shop to journal. A man walked in front of the table where I was sitting, lost in thought and contemplating what I would write next. He startled me when he stopped one step past the table and turned back to say, "You have really nice handwriting!" I was startled not only because he pulled me out of a faraway place in my mind, but also because I have never considered my handwriting to be nice. In fact, I can still hear the daily lectures from my fourth grade teacher, Miss List, who was convinced I'd never amount to anything because my handwriting was small, and messy, and not always neatly resting on the lined page of my wide-rule notebook paper. She'd allowed the other students to shift to college-rule. I, however, had to have remedial handwriting lessons, until my mom took the extremely rare bold step of challenging one of my teachers and telling her that she wouldn't concern herself anymore with Miss List's criticisms of and concerns about my handwriting. After all, my dad's handwriting was bad, she reasoned, and he was a successful person.
The gentleman who stopped to compliment my handwriting said that he'd noticed his own had gotten worse and worse the more he'd shifted to using a computer for his correspondence. The exchange was over quickly. He hurried off to the car where his teenage daughter was waiting for him to take her to school. But, the compliment stayed with me.
After I dropped off my rental car and picked up my own, I stopped at a drug store and found a thank you card. A friend had me over for dinner last night, a beautiful fall evening out by her pool, the smell of salmon grilling over the charcoal fire, and a cool breeze bringing an occasional chill to an otherwise perfectly pleasant evening outdoors. Harry Connick, Jr., played softly in the background over the stereo, and soft warm light illumined the bar where we sat to eat. Her dog laid quietly at our feet, enjoying a pig's ear while we talked until I caught a glimpse of the time on her watch and realized we were both going to have a difficult time getting up in the morning. It was the kind of evening that will remain in my heart for some time, and it just seemed an e-mail thank you, our usual way of touching base about such things, was too impersonal for such an intimate, warm evening.
I wrote my words of thanks on the card, addressed the envelope and dropped it off at the post office on my lunch break. The card lay on my desk most of the morning, the sight of my handwriting catching my attention from time to time. I wondered what the way I write communicates to people. Does it show the beauty I wish to convey? Does it communicate the warmth I want them to know I feel when I think of them? What part of me do they recognize in the way I shape my "s" or dot my "i"? I thought about the cards and letters I've received over the years and the feelings I've had when I recognized the handwriting of someone I love or someone I loathe.
I'm not an overly sentimental person who mourns the loss of things with the increasing use of technology to communicate. I'm deeply appreciative of the enhancements such things as e-mail, instant messaging, and text messaging have brought to my communications with friends and loved ones. But it was odd to think there are people I love, whom I consider close friends, whose handwriting I would not recognize, and in some cases, I've never actually seen. I think that's why I stopped to buy the card. A small gesture, perhaps, but it just seemed important to give a little bit more of myself in the way I said thank you for that beautiful night.