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You see, a few months earlier, my grandfather's cousin - Uncle Ken - read an article about me in the ODT and realised that we were related. He then sat down and painstakingly wrote - in shaky handwriting - a beautiful, encouraging letter to me, detailing his hopes for my future.
It took me about a month to find his address and reply with a scrambled, sincere apology for the delay.
Then followed a stretch of silence, and I learned that my Uncle Ken had died from cancer. I had never met him in person, yet through our letters, we had formed a tangible bond of paper, ink, honesty and encouragement.
Reading his final letter to me, written only a week before he died, was a surreal experience, simultaneously upsetting and comforting.
I probably communicate directly with at least 30 people online every day, through Snapchat, Instagram, Facetime, Facebook messenger, SMS and Twitter. With the technology available at my fingertips, why would I ever need to put pen to paper?
But I find myself mourning the lost art of letter writing.
Unlike an email, a text message or a voicemail, a letter is a tangible piece of communication. It can be re-read, smelt, burned or stored away.
I miss the thrill and anticipation of waiting by the letterbox, as I did as a child, desperate for the postman to bring me a letter from my penpal in Singapore.
To me, letter writing is an incredibly personal and intimate activity. It shows I actually care enough to sit down and create something that will travel across the country, through machines and hands, into the mailbox of a loved one.
I'd like to think that I choose my words carefully, assembling words on the page with precision.
I must admit, I also find letter-writing incredibly therapeutic, almost like keeping a journal.
There is a suitcase in my basement, full to the brim with letters, cards and colourful drawings from my brothers and sisters. I can't bring myself to throw out even one dog-eared letter, even as I move around the country, carting the suitcase hither and thither.
Every so often, I unzip the case and sift through the colourful, ratty sheets of paper until I find something written by my brother John. I can almost hear his lisp in the messy, slanted cursive writing and awkward phrasing. I can't help but feel sad when I reread his letters - they're proof that he once was alive and wrote to me about possum hunting and rugby.
As Catherine Field wrote for The New York Times, ''A good handwritten letter is a creative act, and not just because it is a visual and tactile pleasure. It is a deliberate act of exposure, a form of vulnerability, because handwriting opens a window on the soul in a way that cyber communication can never do. You savour their arrival and later take care to place them in a box for safe keeping.''
So here's my challenge to you: put down the laptop. Discard any thoughts of autocorrect or instant messaging. Pull up a fresh, crisp piece of paper and let your thoughts unravel.
Experience the thrill and permanence of putting ink to paper, and let someone know you care.
With love, Jean.
-Jean Balchin is an English student at the University of Otago.