Whilst on a trip to the United States recently, I had an opportunity to visit my favourite bookshop, Barnes and Noble. Towards the tills you can find an amazing assortment of paper products, such as journals, address books, and notecards.
When I was a child, every birthday or Christmas, I was taught by my parents to make a list of what I had been given, and by whom. My brother and I would then sit down studiously at the dining table, and write ‘thank you’ letters to everyone. In some respects this made me the writer I am today, because there are a multitude of different ways in which to express your gratitude for something, when you are challenged to be creative and nonrepetitive.
As I grew, I started to receive invitations to parties. As soon as I was able, I was expected to reply to these. Every single invitation I received had the four iconic letters, R.S.V.P. in the bottom right-hand corner. At the time, it would have been unthinkable, an enormous social faux-pas, to have ignored the request to répondez s’il vous plaît. We were always pleased to do so.
By the time I was eleven I had the opportunity to sign-up for pen pals from all over the world, and I seized this chance with both hands. During my spare time I would write copious numbers of letters to my new-found friends from abroad, and would receive a great number in return. It would give me such intense delight to discover an envelope on my doorstep with a foreign stamp on it.
Then later, through a miracle, I was reunited with my birth-family in the United States. At first, my mother and I began writing to each other, and I still carry the first letter she ever wrote in my Bible. Then, as I was slowly introduced to my other relatives in North Carolina, I started to receive letters from my grandmother. She had such a beautiful hand.
My grandmother is no longer living, but I still have her letters, and will keep them, and those from my pen pals, and other friends and family, to the day I die. I doubt I would have such treasures if all my correspondence had been by e-mail or on Facebook.
Equally, I think we have lost something precious by no longer responding to invitations we receive. Facebook, e-mails, and other social media are incredible tools for mass communication, and giving us unprecedented access to information and people around the globe. The event function on Facebook is an equally handy tool. However, I suspect that the ease with which we can click our replies diminishes our sense of obligation to the organiser of the event. It becomes less personal, easier to hedge your bets, and wait for something better to come along.
I long for us to be able to recommit to one another and truly connect once again. In a small way, I believe that making a concerted effort to R.S.V.P. and send ‘thank you’ cards to people, is a step in the right direction. Facebook shouldn’t mean the death of the notecard. and R.S.V.P. does not stand for ‘respond, sometimes, variably, perhaps’.
I’ve written two ‘thank you’ cards since buying this delightful, velum, Italian set. It brought me great pleasure to do so, and I hope it brings equal joy to the recipients.