I Have Owed You This Letter…


“I have owed you this letter for a very long time but my fingers have avoided the pencil as though it were an old and poisoned tool.”

  • John Steinbeck (1902 – 1968), American writer and 1962 Nobel Prize Winner for literature

Perhaps more famously, Mark Twain said, “If I’d have had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.”

If impact matters, and if making a difference is a goal, I ask only that you look at your mail when it arrives today. How many hand-written letters will you receive? How many did you send?

The power of a hand-written letter or note is almost immeasurable, especially when it is written to thank someone, tell them of a memory you share, acknowledge their efforts or input on your behalf or to simply tell them how much they mean to you, and why.

Yet we avoid the pencil as if it were poison.

My old rule was 6 per day. From 1995 to about 2008 I tried to send 6 per day, and probably averaged 4.5. As I re-establish the discipline, I probably send five per week now, and with Twain’s permission, they’re shorter and take a bit longer to write. Getting the message honed down takes time, and it feels really good.

Why did I start again?

Back in November, 2021 (the 16th, in case you’re keeping score at home) The Wall Street Journal ran an article on the value of reconnecting with old friends. It speaks to medical, emotional and sleep-related benefits. It speaks to bringing civility and closeness to an ever divisive and separated time. It was a powerful reminder, especially when about a week later a dear friend’s wife passed away unexpectedly. He became letter #4 – and we hope to see one another later this year, after six years of being “out of touch.”

There is value in writing the letter. There is magic for the one receiving it.

A former mentor. A friend whose path went a different way than ours. Someone we coached with. Someone who coached us. A teacher. A cousin. Someone with whom we had a falling out that never got resolved. Someone who might not remember us, but who made a mark on us that is worth picking up the pencil and letting them know they made a difference…

We have owed some letters for a very long time. Let’s take the time to write a few short, but meaningful notes that will make a difference for those who receive them. In doing so, let’s see if it re-connects us with the best of who we are.


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