Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

Family Letters: Forget Me Not

The program's host shares her love for holiday letters from families, and why the heartfelt expressions of kindness and humor are irreplaceable.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Every now and again when I have something on my mind, I like to share it. And today, I want to salute the holiday family letter. You know the ones with the family pictures and news about all your latest doings, your family trip to the Rockies, your daughter's dance recital and a funny story about how you broke your arm.

Can I just tell you? I love them. Not that I send them myself, because I don't. I'm either too lazy or stressed out or some combination of the two to do it. I'm so bad, I don't even send out personal Christmas cards anymore. So if you didn't get one this year, well, now you know why.

Plus, I got a hold of one of those simplify your life books awhile back, and it talked about how you should cut out the things you really don't want or need to do to concentrate on the things you do want to do.

That's all I needed. Sorry, Hallmark, Kinko's, high-end stationary store with the handmade paper. I am no longer in need of your services.

That's may be why I love your letters so much. I admire people who take the time to do things I'm not going to do, or have given up, like making handmade baby blankets - something else I threw over the side when I decided to simplify my life.

Now, I think I might be in the minority here. I suspect this because when I get these letters, I started to notice how many of you seemed to apologize for sending them.

One of my favorites this year was from someone who actually invited people to stop reading after the third paragraph if you didn't want to know what her kids were up to. I'm sorry, if you don't think I care about you, why am I on your mailing list?

I do care. I love knowing about your Uncle Bud's long delayed trip to Dresden, your daughter-in-law's seminary studies, your husband field work in Tanzania, your service on the PTA, your stint as the kid's basketball coach. I was sad to hear that your mother died after a long illness, that you got separated, that you had to have the hip replaced and it was harder and more painful than you thought.

I'm so glad you told me. I love knowing all the cute and crazy things the kids were doing, because I'm not there to see them for myself.

I love the pictures which are invariably taken on vacation. And all of you are smiling like you have not a care in the world, even though I know that five minutes after you took it, your kids were fighting over who get to sit next to the window on the bullet train, which led to a fight between you and your husband about why kept his nose in the book while you keep breaking up the kids fights. I know.

What I really love is that those of you who write these letters are taking the time to keep the friendships intact. I know we're supposed to be in a let-it-all-hang-out, all-connected-all-the-time world. We have MySpace and Friendster and Pulse and Linkedln and all the other social networking sites which are supposed to keep us up to date, but at the end of the day, I don't really feel satisfied by them. They are all their own little villages, and they are all, in my view, a little unsatisfying - fast-food friendship, the text message in the place of conversation, the e-mail in the place of the letter.

Now, I know some of this is generational, that the blog, the Web site can be as intimate as a piece of paper. Hey, I got a blog and I have a Web site, too. And I know those letters, which used to be all written by hand are now composed on a computer, the photos downloaded from a digital camera, loaded on to your copier and sent along to me.

But there's still something about getting that card in the mail, addressed to me and mine, usually by hand. It pleases me to know that your hands have touched that letter which now rest in my hands. And in that way, we are connected, even when we're far apart.

So Happy New Year, and keep them coming. And maybe one day I'll get my act together and send you one, too.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues