Each February I escape to Hawaii. I stay at a military resort located on the best part of Waikiki Beach. My daily routine includes an early morning power walk of four to five miles through the main section of Waikiki out to Diamond Head and back.
For years during my walk I have observed an elderly man sitting on a bench writing in a journal. This past February I stopped and introduced myself. His name is Grover, and he told me that he writes to relieve the stress of living alone, to clearly articulate his thoughts on what he observes, to put important information down so he can forget it and then go back to it later, to keep his mind active and to practice his fine motor skills. Even at his advanced age Grover’s handwriting is beautiful.
My encounter with Grover made me think about writing in America today. Where penmanship and writing were important to Grover’s generation, they are almost a lost art with today’s students and a sizeable portion of adults.
I can vividly remember my elementary school teacher, Mrs. Allen, using a chalk holder to draw multiple parallel lines simultaneously on the chalkboard so that she could demonstrate cursive writing. We carefully followed Mrs. Allen on lined paper that was specifically designed for this purpose.
Handwriting from long ago is clear, easy to read and beautifully scripted. Our nation’s historical documents are a testament to this fact.
Developing quality penmanship was once a priority in our schools and was equally valued by society. As a society we grew from a percentage of the population signing their names with an “X” to a more educated and cultured society in which a person’s skill in writing was noticed, appreciated and valued.
This is not true today. Today we seem to be going “back to the future.” Now it is all about texting, email, electronic signatures and such. The handwriting demonstrated today is so poor that it is almost illegible. Few graduation thank-you notes, if you even receive one, are handwritten. Most are hastily dashed off on a computer or purchased pre-printed from a store.
In a great many homes there are letters from long ago written by husbands, wives, sons, daughters, soldiers and loved ones that are valued greatly by the family. My mother has my father’s letters from World War II, and I have letters written while I was overseas in Vietnam. These letters provide a historical perspective for who we are today.
My mother still has beautiful handwriting at the age of 93 and uses this as her means to communicate with others. There is genuine feeling associated with getting a handwritten letter. I believe that is missing in all the social media methods that people use today. I have taken to written correspondence on a selective basis, but I must admit that I, too, have succumbed to texting and using other forms of electronic correspondence for most of my communication.
Grover was a very interesting person to listen to and talk with. I am glad that I stopped to meet him. As one gets older things seem to change quickly at an ever-increasing rate. The Grovers of the world remind us that, even though the world has changed, things that were valued in our youth such as good penmanship and thoughtful writing are still important today. I am looking forward to seeing Grover again in February 2015.