My handwriting is pretty bad. For years I labored under the illusion that it once was clear and legible, possibly approaching lovely. I imagined it had become corrupted first by the rigors of taking notes in college lectures and later by the vagaries of aging—arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or something along those lines. My illusion was shattered when I stumbled upon a report card from the third or fourth grade. In impeccable script, under Handwriting, Mrs. Carter, my teacher had penned “Needs work.”
In other words, my handwriting was never good. And then it got worse. Before I retired from teaching, some of my students had trouble deciphering my notes on drafts of their essays. I joked with them that the cryptic squiggles were my way of inviting them to stop by my office for a friendly chat. Now my dear friend and housemate complains that she can’t read the grocery lists I make. She tells me I’m a “lazy” writer, though, like my grade school teacher, she also encourages me, saying that I could write better if I tried harder.
Sometimes I do try. Sometimes I even practice. Sometimes watching the news, I sit with lined paper and write my ABCs (and abcs) over and over in the old Locker style I was taught in elementary school. Nevertheless, sometimes I cannot read my grocery lists either.
Because of my handwriting, I have long had an aversion to writing people notes. Condolence notes, thank you notes, congratulatory notes—they are my nemesis. It’s not that I don’t care about the person or situation. It’s not that I don’t want to offer appreciation, sympathy, or a pat on the back. It’s not that I can’t think of anything to say. It is rather that I am dreadfully self-conscious about my handwriting.
That, however, is beginning to change—and not because my writing has improved. It’s more that it has suddenly dawned on me that some of the handwritten notes I receive are not all that easy to read either. Sometimes other peoples’ handwriting isn’t all that much better than mine—but I treasure their notes as much as I do the ones written in an almost calligraphic hand. In fact, having to work a little harder to read them may make them all the sweeter, and because I have to slow down to puzzle out a letter or decipher a word, I get to savor them a little longer.
And so I’ve tried to be more faithful in the writing and sending of the good old-fashioned handwritten note. I heard through the grapevine how much a condolence note from me meant to a friend, I’ll call her Kay, someone I used to know but hadn’t seen for over a decade. Kay told a mutual friend how good it felt to be remembered when her husband died suddenly in early summer, and the friend told me. Apparently my bad handwriting was not the point; the expression of sympathy was, along with the simple fact of being thought of. A few weeks ago, some neighbors had a lovely oyster roast. I wrote them afterwards, telling them how much I had enjoyed the occasion. Later I saw them out walking, and they thanked me profusely for the note. Neither mentioned my bad handwriting.
This afternoon I mailed a handwritten note to someone I love, I’ll call her Ellie. She is in the midst of an awful workplace situation. I wanted her to know how sorry I am for what she’s going through. I wanted her to know how much I respect and trust her work, how much confidence I have in her, her integrity, her compassion, and her courage. She may not be able to easily read every word I wrote, but she will get the gist of it. I hope it will give her a moment of comfort. I hope it will help her remember she is both valuable and loved. I did not tell her in so many words that I am holding her in my prayers. But when she receives the note later this week, somewhere deep in her heart, I hope she will know.