Shelley paced in front of her sixth grade class. “Our next project will be to write a letter.” Groans went up instantly from the students. Stopping in place, she added, “A handwritten letter.”
“Mrs. Miller, why would you make us do this? I always type my work!” Molly whined from the back row.
Jeremy spun around in his chair. “Yeah…I can’t even read my handwriting!”
“You know, Mrs. Miller, we are living in modern times. People simply do not handwrite things anymore. We have computers. We have the internet. We have texting. Handwriting is so last decade.” Roger added his thoughts on the subject.
Shelley smiled but continued on. “Now class…this won’t be as hard as you think. Let’s start by discussing who you will write to.”
Molly figured it was worth a shot to write to Miley Cyrus. Arnold Schwarzenegger was Jeremy’s pick. He idolized The Terminator and thought this would make the project more tolerable. Plus he figured if anyone could read messy writing, it would be a former weight lifter and movie star turned politician.
“What about you, Victor?” Shelley moved to the next student. “Who do you want to write to?”
Victor pushed his glasses against his forehead. Shuffling his feet under the table, he gave her his answer.
“I’m sorry, Victor,” Shelley leaned forward, “you’re going to have to speak up. Class! Quiet down now. Victor is telling us who he’ll be writing to.”
“My dad.” Victor looked down at the floor. A hushed tone came over the classroom. Victor’s dad was a subject no one ever spoke about.
Shelley walked back to her spot to draw attention away from Victor. “I expect everyone to bring their letters next week to class. Be real in your writing, kids! No one wants perfection – they want real, relatable writing. Make yourself believable, ok?”
She excused the class and gathered up her papers. A shuffling noise brought her head up to discover that Victor was still in his chair. A big tear rolled down his freckled cheek.
“Victor, Honey. What is it?” Shelley sat down in the chair next to him.
Using his sleeve for a tissue, Victor looked at her out of the corner of his eye. “Mrs. Miller…what if real doesn’t cut it?”
“I’m not sure I understand, Victor. In writing, you have to be real. Readers are smart and they can tell the difference. Why do you ask?”
“I just want my dad to love me. Maybe my “real” is not good enough.” Victor grabbed his books and fled from the room.
The following week, the students placed their letters on Shelley’s desk before plopping into their chairs.
“So how did it go this week, class?” She picked up the letters. The quality of handwriting differed from student to student. When she made it to the bottom of the pile, however, the final letter caught her attention. It was written in the most perfect handwriting she had ever seen. The letters were clear, the writing was short, and the meaning was powerful.
Shelley cleared her throat. “Very good class. This was a good exercise for you. In our world today, we’ve lost touch with the humanness that handwriting can bring to communication. This coming week, I want you to mail your letters and keep us posted if you get any replies, ok?”
Moving to the whiteboard, she went on with the day’s lesson. At the end of the period, she asked Victor to stay behind for just a moment.
“Victor,” Shelley slid into the chair next to him once again. “Victor, what does your letter mean?”
“It means I love him.” Victor stood up, took his letter from her hand, and left the room.
Three days later, Victor’s dad, Terrance, received the letter through the bars of his cell. He was serving a five year sentence for petty theft. He didn’t do it but his lawyer had been a dud and now he spent his days staring at a concrete wall. Terrance opened the letter with shaking hands. His son, the one who was just eight years old when he had been convicted, had written him a letter. It took Terrance only a moment to grasp the meaning. Staring up at him were these simple sentences: “I did it Daddy. I stole from the Carter’s. I hid the stuff in the basement. I’m sorry, Daddy. I’m so sorry.”
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