We live in an altogether different world than our early American ancestors. Our age is instant, easy, accessible, short, and to-the-point, while Abigail Adams’ day took on a slower, simpler pace. She lived in an age that had a dramatically different view of people and relationships than we do.
There was no such thing as instant communication. Receiving a letter two days after the sender posted was considered miraculously quick. By practicing the art of letter writing, Mrs. Adams was by no means unique to her time. But because of her station in American history as First Lady, her letters are readily available.
The first lesson we can gain from the life and correspondence of Abigail Adams is the importance of time.
Abigail thought those she loved were worth one of the most precious commodities of any mortal: time. Time to convey her thoughts, time to reveal her feelings, time to relay her motivations. Many people whom Abigail wrote to were a great distance away. She could not readily see their faces and they were not often available for long conversations over tea or even a casual greeting in passing. To correspond with such souls took both time and intentionality.
Secondly, Abigail Adams’ letters provide a rich and deep grasp of both language and literature, as well as demonstrated an ability to shape words into colorful prose.
In other words, her letters were a reflection of craftsmanship not just utilitarian means of communication. Communication is so readily available and literally at our fingertips that we almost never take time to think before we hit ‘Send.’ We’ve lost the weight of words. Abigail Adams, however, went through multiple drafts of a single letter, sometimes even having her sons edit and amend, just because she desired to make the best use of her words. She sought to be concise, vivid, and clear in order to not waste the time of her recipient.
Lastly, each and every correspondent of Abigail Adams felt as though her letters were meant for them.
They felt as though she knew them so well. They felt that way because Abigail truly did care. She took great pains to nurture a relationship with them through each and every correspondence. “My bursting heart must find vent at my pen,” she bemoaned because she felt that every soul she wrote to deserved a genuine response. People matter, relationships matter, and the best way for Abigail Adams to communicate so passionate a belief was for her to actually take the time to craft her words.
Mrs. Adams once said,
“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”
We can gain a great deal in rediscovering the Art of Letter Writing. For students especially there are so many advantages. Relationships can be richly renewed or begun. Grammar, punctuation, and syntax can be simultaneously developed. Handwriting skills can be creatively mastered. Be it with a pen pal in an orphanage half-way across the world, or with a cousin, grandparent, or other family member a little closer to home, we can simultaneously instruct our children to be both skillful students and caring beings through the simple act of writing a letter.
One thing we don’t do well today is allow ourselves to know and be known by others. It’s hard, but, as Abigail Adams knew, investing in people, cultivating relationships, and sharing life together are among God’s greatest graces. Perhaps we should all take a page from Abigail Adams’ book and close our computers or shut off our phones and pick up a pen.