The magic of letter writing
My first pen pal was my cousin. We were 4 years old. The content was simple—How are you? I'm fine.
The process was magical—writing my cousin, who lived in the next state, was like visiting between family visits. Receiving a letter was more exciting than fireworks on the Fourth of July.
Over the years, I've written letters to, and consequently received letters from, my grandmothers, grand aunts, aunts and uncles, childhood friends, siblings, nieces, and cousins. I even have a letter or two from my Great Grandpa Joe, who immigrated from Sicily.
In addition to my regular pen pals, I've taken to pen and paper to connect with colleagues, community members, and more relatives during the pandemic. Years from now, when all that is left of this pandemic are stories told at family gatherings that the youngest children don't quite understand, I'll fondly recall the resurgence of letter writing.
A letter arriving in the mail is an oasis in the desert of the pandemic—or any of life's challenges. There's the initial excitement of finding a personal letter amongst the bills and ads. There's a palpable anticipation as you open the envelope. When you read "Dear (fill in your name)" you are immediately and intimately connected to the letter writer. For the next few minutes, you're whisked away from the stress of the world as you escape into a visit with an old friend, an estranged (because of teleworking) colleague, or a dear relative.
My heart is light with the realization that I'm not the only one. Many of you have starting writing letters in recent months. And if you haven't, here's why you should.
Letters, whether we're writing or reading one, provide an escape from screen time, negative news, politics, and trying to answer, "What's for supper?"
Letters are more tangible and personal than an email, tweet, instant message, or text. We can smell the paper, dried ink, and scents of the person who wrote it or place where it originated. We can feel the weight of the stationary and it's embossed accents. We can re-read a letter over and over, allowing it reawaken emotions—happy, silly, sad—evoked by its words.
Letters can be refolded and stored in a shoebox or between the pages of a favorite book.
Letters transcend time. They can be rediscovered by future generations, opening a portal to the past that existed before their birth. And as they read our handwritten words, we become a tangible part of the future the will exist after our death.