Yesterday, I returned home to find a letter in the mail.
One aspect of the pandemic that I have not minded so much is this resurgence of meaningful mail. There's just something so nice about finding something in my mailbox that isn't an underwear catalog, a bill, or a coupon for a local pizza restaurant.
Don't get me wrong, I love my discounts too, but I know the time it takes to pen these notes and letters having sent several myself in the time since this all started. It's not as easy as typing and hitting 'Send.' You have to go through the process of obtaining stamps, setting aside a portion of your day to write, and then walk it out to your mailbox. That's not even taking into account the time you have to set aside to purchase cards, stationary, or envelopes on which to write. But that time is a sign of love, captured forever with ink and paper.
Most of these missives are one-offs, but still meaningful. After a bout of card sending in October, I turned the tables and asked all my friends and family to send me Birthday cards in November. Boy did my friends and family deliver on that one! By the end of the my Birthday month I had received enough cards to fill my kitchen table -- a tangible and constant reminder of their love.
I found myself wanting more though -- more interactions that were equally meaningful and methodical.
Jump to a few weeks ago when a member of my writing group (Cheryl) asked if anyone wanted to be pen pals. I eagerly replied "Uhm...YES!" and now here we are when I opened my mailbox on March 6 to find a letter waiting just for me.
As I slid it out of the mailbox I was both surprised and a little intimidated by its weight. I opened it to find Cheryl had sent me a card plus three hand-written pages of stationary! I had not been expecting that much, since up until now most of my snail mail exchanges had been contained to cards.
That's when it hit me that this was going to be an actual pen pal with letters documenting our thoughts and lives. I knew I had to sit with that for a bit. That didn't stop me from quickly reading the note and three pages though. However, after reading it I put it away and went to bed so I could write my own response with a fresh mind (and fresh fingers) the next day.
I may have been intimidated at first, but as I started penning my response I realized that I was going to write JUST as much as she did. I don't want to say here what we wrote -- that's not as important and it's between us -- but I will say it was thrilling to get to write a letter to someone whom I have never met in person and who lives miles and miles away.
Not only did it inspire me to slice about it, but it actually made me remember my first official pen pals that I obtained through a student program back in 1999-2000. They were from even farther away than Cheryl: Yuka from Japan and Jessica from France. Writing this slice and finishing my letter, I decided to see if I even still had anything left from our exchanges over a decade ago.
Digging into my closet I found more than I expected to: letters, envelopes, bits of stationary they had mailed me, and even a photograph of Jessica's dog, Maya. What scraps of paper written by 12-year-old me exist in the shoebox buried beneath a bed in France or folded into an album somewhere in Japan? Or were they lost a long time ago just like our connection -- a fire, flood, or just a simple purging of papers? Are they thinking about me as I think of them? Do they even remember having a pen pal from the far off place of Arkansas?
Funny how this all started because I got a letter in the mail yesterday.