Letter writing, in our age of instant communication, is a dying art. Why write letters when we have e-mail, text messaging, Google chat, Facebook, and Skype? I have family in Iran, Sweden, and Canada, and a boyfriend in Prague, so I appreciate and rely on the many quick and easy ways that we can all talk to each other, in most cases free of cost. Modern technology, it's a wonderful thing. Writing letters is antiquated and I certainly don't long to return to the days when communication-by-post was all there was. Still, I think our fast-paced culture has lost something in giving up old-fashioned hand-written letters for the immediate "hey u" text and "what's up" e-mail.
A couple of days ago, I came across this piece from the Huffington Post, "11 Amazing Thank You Notes From Famous People." The letter writers include Roald Dahl (pictured above), Marilyn Monroe, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, Conan O'Brien, John Lennon, and more.
Lennon's letter is pretty funny. The Huffington Post delivers the context, then the letter:
Once upon another time (1974), John Lennon showed up drunk to LA's Troubadour club and proceeded to heckle the Smothers Brothers during their act. A fight ensued which involved just about everyone, including actress Pam Grier. The next day, she got this letter from Lennon:
I apologize for being so rude and thank you for not hitting me.
P.S. Harry Nilsson feels the same way.
Marilyn Monroe's letter is charming for getting straight to the point:
Dear Mr. von Fuehlsdorff:
Thank you for your champagne.
It arrived, I drank it and I was gayer.
But the absolutely best letter of the bunch is from the children’s book author Roald Dahl to a little girl named Amy.
According to the website Letters of Note:
One rainy Sunday afternoon in 1989, with encouragement and much-needed help from her father, a 7-year-old girl named Amy decided to send something to Roald Dahl. Taking inspiration from her favourite book, The BFG, and using a combination of oil, coloured water and glitter, Amy sent the author a very fitting and undeniably adorable gift: one of her dreams, contained in a bottle.
Thankfully, the sentiment wasn’t lost on Roald Dahl.
Dahl wrote the girl a very touching response:
10th February 1989
I must write a special letter and thank you for the dream in the bottle. You are the first person in the world who has sent me one of these and it intrigued me very much. I also liked the dream. Tonight I shall go down to the village and blow it through the bedroom window of some sleeping child and see if it works.
With love from,
Part of the reason the letters above are so amazing, apart from the fact that their signatories are quite extraordinary people, is that even the shortest and pithiest ones are still brimming with thoughtfulness and sincerity. Monroe's letter is a perfect example. It's so simple and yet so satisfying to read: she thanks Mr. von Fuehlsdorff for his gift, says what she did with it (drank it), and describes the effect it had on her (it made her gayer). Today, when we find ourselves in the position of thanking someone, it is usually because that person gave us a gift---and they want to know that you received it, are enjoying and using it, and--most importantly--that it affected you in some way, that it was meaningful to you.
Dahl's letter is the best of the bunch because it not only covers the same essential ground Monroe's note does, and with compassion and tenderness, but it makes the recipient feel infinitely special. Think about your favorite childhood author writing you, and only you, these words: "You are the first person in the world who has sent me one of these and it intrigued me very much."
With these letters in mind, I've put together here what I see as the essentials of writing a well-crafted thank-you note. Did I miss anything?