We are approaching the end of the shopping season for Christmas. More people than ever are searching online for gifts. The pandemic has made personal gatherings more difficult this year, causing people to look harder than usual for that perfect present.
Millions are out of work. Gift cards remain a popular item, but many restaurants are closed, and some stores have restrictions that make shopping a bit more challenging. The perfect gift is hard to find, partially because it is hard to shop and partially because people have different needs this year.
It just so happens that as I am struggling with what to give family and friends this Christmas, I am also cleaning out boxes and files from our office. Who would have thought that in that tedious task of going through filing cabinets and storage boxes that I would find the perfect gift? A gift that stands the test of time.
As I sift through my files, I have a box near my desk where I am saving these treasured gifts that I have received. Some of them go back to my childhood over the past 60 years ago. Each one takes me back to a moment I shared with the person that gave it to me. They give me as much pleasure, maybe more, as the day I received them. They are truly a gift that keeps on giving.
I am referring to the handwritten notes that I have managed to save over these many years. They are different, unique and special. Most importantly, these notes are an indication of the willingness of the sender to give me a portion of their most precious possession: Time.
The range of the letters is as varied as the paths that I have crossed with people along the way. Hikers I shared time with along the Appalachian Trail. Politicians I knew in the General Assembly. Newspaper and banking colleagues. High school and college friends. Even a President of the United States.
I have also had a chance to go through files that contain thousands of emails. They are equally touching in content, but somehow, they are not the same as that handwritten note.
The letters from my grandfather to my grandmother as they were courting in their teen years completely changed my perception of him. While I loved them both beyond measure, I never would have imagined he would have put such tender thoughts and expressions of love to paper.
I appreciate the handwritten note from Judge Julian Webb to House Speaker Tom Murphy as I was sworn in for the first time. It said simply, “Mr. Speaker. I commend Dan Ponder to your care.” I wonder how many letters like that are written in these hyper-partisan political days we are living through.
I have treasured letters from every place I have lived, every job I have had, every circle of friends I have enjoyed. I have them from siblings, parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Fraternity brothers, friends, and those I have never met.
Especially precious are the letters from my wife and children. Letters from when I was backpacking, when I was away in the legislature and when I was ill. They capture something no email will ever be able to do. They are infinitely better than a Hallmark card, remembered long after a phone call, and carry their message forward for as long as they are saved.
As we try to find that perfect gift in this most imperfect year, remember that a simple handwritten note can be the most cherished item received. Notes and letters convey your thoughts of the moment but can also recapture the good thoughts and feelings years and decades later.
Take the time to write a note to someone who means something to you now, or even someone who meant something to you in the past. It will be appreciated and can be a truly timeless and priceless gift.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org