One day earlier this month, I dropped by the newsroom to check my mail.
The volume of snail mail has slowed to a trickle these days, but I still occasionally get a handwritten letter, and it always lifts my spirits.
For a certain generation of Times Free Press readers, a handwritten card or letter is still the apex of civilized communication, or more to the point, Southern manners.
A personal email, while always appreciated, is sterile in comparison to a letter.
Putting pen to paper, licking a stamp and dropping off a letter at a post office shows a level of investment that most people simply aren't willing to make in 2020.
I've noticed that about 90% of postal letters are positive, usually either notes of thanks or congratulations.
Imagine my delight then, when my recent newsroom visit turned up not one but five pieces of handwritten mail.
I immediately fished a letter opener out of my pencil jar and began gently removing the cards and letters, careful not to mangle the envelopes.
The first letter had a Rossville return address, and the handwriting on the envelope was so elegant that it seemed impossible that it could have been crafted by a human hand.
The letter, written in black ink on heavy stock, was filled with nice compliments and then the kicker: "Hang in there, Honey, we need you."
It's funny how these encouraging letters often arrive on the very day you need a boost. This letter filled me up.
Breaking the age stereotype, another missive was from a young woman I wrote about almost a year ago. She said the column helped build her confidence at a vulnerable time, and she apologized for taking so long to write.
No worries. I don't ever expect a thank you for doing my job. It does resonate, however, when someone reaches out — even belatedly. Especially belatedly.
A lot of my mail comes from the parents of adult children who say my columns about our two teenage sons spark memories of their own kids.
One of my recent notes was from a parent in response to a column I wrote about our older son leaving home for college: "How dare you!," she wrote. "Making me, in the very early hours of Sunday, puddle up and have to reach for a tissue."
She added, encouragingly, "Your son will be back many times. He will one day bring a mate, then children, and the joy goes on."
Thanks, I needed that.
Two of the letters were faith-oriented.
One was from a friend thanking me for passing on a story idea about her church. The fact that she would reach out so graciously over such a small gesture says a lot about her character.
And the last letter I opened was a one-sentence sentiment from a man in Ooltewah who wished me: " ... The gift of hope, the blessing of home and the peace of His love."
That reminded me that a minister friend once told me that his only God-given gift was the gift of encouragement.
And encouragement — memorialized in a letter — is one of the greatest gifts of all.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com, or write to him at the Times Free Press, 400 E. 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403.