My place in the sun, April 19: Take the Time

Have you noticed that your signature is no longer needed when your use your credit card? If not, know this change is coming soon. This past week, I learned that four major credit card companies would stop requiring signatures on purchases. The articles I read noted that it is unlikely this change will mean we will not be asked to sign receipts again but the number of times our signature will be required will be reduced significantly. Although the change is optional, large companies like Walmart and Target have moved to eliminate the signature requirement. Efficiency, convenience, eliminating the need to write in script and the insertion of the chip in credit cards are reasons for the change.

   In the grand scheme of material I read this week, the lack of a signature on a credit card receipt is not particularly noteworthy. However, one thought led to another. Eventually, I considered what is becoming, I believe, the lost custom of writing letters and sending cards with personal notes of sympathy, thinking of you, congratulations, and get well in personal script.

   When was the last time you received a handwritten card? When was the last time you sent a handwritten letter or card to someone? The internet has opened up new modes of communication through email, Twitter, and other social media tools. Nevertheless, I think personal letters and cards are useful and beautiful ways of communicating with others.

   Handwritten letters and cards take time, effort, and thoughtfulness. I am reminded of the adage “think before you speak.” Technology allows us to communicate quickly. We are conditioned to read an email and immediately respond to it. Handwritten communication takes time to form thoughts, find the appropriate words, and write them on the stationery or card. It takes time and effort to use proper grammar and spelling without the instant assistance of the spelling and grammar checks. This time and effort convey a genuine interest in the recipients, namely, they are worth the time and effort.

   Letters are worth saving. They are a treasury of memories. While we can save emails, they can be just as easily and hastily deleted. As our inbox fills up and multiple folders store the more important communication we are often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of material. A handwritten letter saved in a desk drawer or in some special place can evoke precious memories of loved ones and reminders of events long since passed.

   Handwritten cards and notes can be instruments of joy. Pope Francis reminds us to proclaim the joy of the Gospel, the joy of knowing we are loved by God. He also tells us to reach out to others, especially those who are on the sidelines and likely to be unnoticed and forgotten. Get well cards, sympathy cards, and thinking of you notes can be means to communicate joy and concern to those whose conditions and circumstances keep them withdrawn or isolated, physically and/or emotionally, from others. Sending a card is a way of telling a person they are in our thoughts and prayers.

   My musings prompted by the news that credit cards will no longer require a signature led me to the lost custom of writing letters and sending personal cards. I conclude with words from Pope Francis: “Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion and thus to enrich society. How beautiful it is when people select their words and actions with care, in the effort to avoid misunderstandings, to heal wounded memories and to build peace and harmony” (World Communication Day Message, January 24, 2016).

   Emails, text messages, and social networks are today’s most frequently used forms of communication. When they are used wisely and ethically, they can build and sustain relationships. However, as we use the tools of technology to communicate let’s keep in mind the power of the handwritten letter and card, thoughtfully and caringly crafted, to connect people with one another. Take the time to send a letter to a friend or a card to someone who could use words of encouragement or congratulations. Thus, you will be engaged in creating a culture of encounter — an environment in which people are appreciated, respected, and loved.

   If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.