Today, I read a lovely piece in the Washington Post about Americans’ letters to the President. The story is a touching read, with moving narrative about Jennifer Cline, a young woman who recently wrote a handwritten letter on lined paper to the President. She wrote a few pages on her son’s spiral-bound notebook about losing her job and ballooning debt, and sent it off to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I was encouraged to read that Jennifer and other Americans still believe in postal mail, sending nearly 5,000 pieces to the White House each day.
I was even more encouraged to read that the President personally reads ten pieces of mail and responds to a few each week. Cline’s letter was one of those ten letters back in January, and the President found her letter worthy of a response. The President knows how to write a good note:
After Obama read Cline’s letter, he took out one of his custom-made notecards — thick slabs of white paper cut to the size of postcards, with the presidential seal embossed at the top.
He had always preferred to write by hand, using a yellow legal pad to craft sections of his autobiography and his campaign speeches. Now he took out a black fountain pen and started to write in the top left corner.
“Jennifer,” he began.
Obama had made a habit of keeping his responses short: one sentence that expressed gratitude for the letter, and one or two more that tended toward encouragement instead of advice. “Dream big dreams,” he wrote to one teenager. “I’ll try to do better for you next week,” he wrote to a detractor.
(from “For a look outside presidential bubble, Obama reads 10 personal letters each day,” by Eli Saslow, Wednesday, March 31, 2010, Washington Post)
Clearly, written correspondence is still as significant part of our country.
Presidential correspondence is nothing new. Reading this story about Cline reminded me of a letter that President Abraham Lincoln wrote during the Civil War. When he was told that a certain American mother had lost all five of her sons to the devastating war, he wrote the below letter. His humble efforts to console are inspiring. The beauty of the aged paper and ink are beautiful and historic.
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,