We often run across posts on Reddit or Imgur that document the totems in people's lives: the things that we do to mark transitions in life. One of the things that is continually fascinating is the way people get tattoos or jewelry showing the words of their loved ones in their handwriting, often — but not always — after they have died.
In a world that is marked by an ever-decreasing collective attention span, it's remarkable to see the need for a feeling of permanence and closeness persists. More remarkable is that people choose to use the Internet to share these incredibly personal words and images with the world.
And while many people might spend time considering the power of words, few really consider the power of handwriting in any meaningful way. That's why we've decided to explore why handwriting means so much to us.
As it turns out, the reasons inspired by these and many other photographs, are as beautiful as the handwritten words that give them life.
1. It is intimate.
The act of writing to someone else is an intensely intimate act. It requires time and focus: a shaving away of distraction. When we see the curl of ink that forms our name, we know that at that very moment, we were on someone's mind from "Dear" to "I love you."
It brings us to that realization in a moment of what can only be called intimacy, even if they are separated from us by miles or some distance thought immeasurable.
2. It's more personal than even a fingerprint.
There is always a trace of someone in their written words.
In a sentence, we might hear the sound of their voice. On an old recipe card, we might find the touch of their hand. In a faded note, we might locate a trace of their dreams for us ... and sometimes the hope that we will see them again.
3. It joins the writer and recipient in a folded piece of time.
On the one hand, the signature and words belong to the writer in the moments that passed as he or she wrote it. The thoughts, the things not said, the sentiments, the act of putting pen to paper: all of those things belong to the person who wrote it.
On the other hand, the recipient may see those words or that name and experience them differently every time.
To find an old letter or to read an old note is to experience the past with the immediacy and intensity of the present.
The edges of time seem to brush against each other, just for a moment.
4. It speaks to the places and people we think of as home.
It stimulates recollection and nostalgia: the time-faded, sometimes bittersweet mixture of thought, memory, and longing. Nostalgia, in the original sense of the word, really means homesickness.
Familiar handwriting reminds us of the places and people we love or, perhaps more wistfully, once loved: the fragile moments in our lives that contained the transient feeling of home and belonging.
5. It can help us make peace with the past.
To find an old letter allows us that chance to view the past with fresh eyes. We may find that can no longer bear the burden of anger or that we must somehow renew our faith and commitment. We might suddenly see the humanity in someone we might have written off or the chance for us to seek forgiveness from someone we've wronged.
Sometimes handwriting seems to be a message from the past urging us to gently make amends.
6. It reminds us of what is important.
Most importantly, handwriting can bring us back to knowing and remembering what is best about humanity: our ability to love and care for other people, to share joy and grief, to break bread, and spread kindness, to endure sorrow and help others do the same.
The world did not end when your spouse went away. The Earth did not break when your heart did. The recalcitrant sun rose again the morning after your life seemed to shatter.
To be moved by a loved one's signature is to feel the presence of grace and divinity, even if you're not religious.
You were loved. You are loved. And you continue to love.
To recognize or feel it is more than enough.
Consider this a reminder.
K.S. Anthony/A Plus
Share your notes and tattoos or anything else you'd care to in the comments below.