I enjoy penning handwritten letters.
I know it’s been practically outmoded with the prevalence of emails, texts, phone calls and social media, but I feel as though a handwritten letter (even if carrying the same message a text would have carried) says something a little extra on it own.
There’s just something special about receiving a handwritten letter, note or card and knowing someone took the time out of their day to sit down and write to you.
And on the writer’s side, I find a special charm in my box of organized stationary, my special letter-writing pens and my assortment of stamps and sealing waxes.
I guess it’s my love for paper and ink, too, that makes me a good newspaper-person. I don’t think working for a media source without a physical, printed newspaper would ever beat the same thrill I get when the paper comes out on Tuesday or Thursday evening and the photos I took and the words I wrote have been put into print.
Throughout my life, I’ve had countless “pen pals” who I’ve written letters to and received letters from.
And most recently, I’ve discovered one-time communication, such as to hospital patients or folks in nursing homes.
You don’t get or expect a response back from these letters. They aren’t for making friends or connections – these letters are to reach out to someone who’s name you may never know and face you’ll never picture. You might not ever know the details of their life, but the point is to be a momentary bright-spot in those lives, to write a cheerful letter or card that helps chase away the shadows that may be tightening in around them.
Recently, I discovered a letter-writing resource called More Love Letters – despite what the name implies, it’s not actually romantic love letters, but rather the concept that every letter should carry a bit of love with it.
The way it works is that the More Love Letters organizers received submissions from family members or friends who want their loved ones to receive letters – usually, it’s due to the fact that their loved one needs encouragement, uplifting or that they are just lonely and in need of communication.
Then, the request is published on the More Love Letters website and letter-writing participants are encouraged to write letters to a certain address.
Recently, I participated when I saw a letter-request from a young woman who wanted letters sent to her grandmother.
This was at the start of COVID-19 quarantining and the request stated that her grandmother (who lived in Ireland) was experiencing deep loneliness due to living alone and being unable to see her family or friends.
The young woman believed that letters would cheer her grandmother up, and I took to the task.
I wrote about the town I work in – about the town’s roads and its old courthouse. I wrote about the Bed and Breakfasts that are a deeply characteristic part of the town. I wrote about the local, alligator-infested and about the boggy lake that is mostly swamp.
I wrote about the different things I was excited to see reopen after COVID-19: coffee shops, beaches, national parks, Maclay Gardens in Tallahassee and thrift stores.
I wrote about the Florida weather – which is incredibly cliché, but considering we are having an unusual season of Spring weather, it seemed like a fair subject.
I wrote about the towns I grew up in and my large, boisterous family.
I filled that with-page letter with as much chit-chat and rambling as possible, then I sealed it, placed the correct-postage stamp on it and sent it on its way to Ireland.
And that, I thought, would be the end of it – you don’t write for More Love Letters with the thought of getting any response.
I didn’t give the letter another thought, except to occasionally hope that the Irish grandmother I wrote to was feeling a little less lonely.
And then this week, I had a frightful Monday. I woke up later than I planned to and managed to spill coffee on myself while driving to work. I spent the whole day feeling like I was playing “catch-up” rather than staying on top of anything (you know, all in a typical Monday).
When I got home that evening, all I wanted to do was fix a pot of tea, put my feet in an Epsom salt soak and call it a day while watching some mindless TV show.
Instead, I found a brightly decorated envelope waiting in the mailbox for me.
In the corner was a horribly orange stamp with Queen Elizabeth’s face on it and a blue “By Air Mail, par avion – royal mail” label had been slapped on beside it.
I was confused for a second – I didn’t know anyone in North Ireland who could possibly be writing to me.
Then, I opened and read it – and it was from the granddaughter who had originally requested letters for her Grandmother Beryl.
She thanked me for the letter, mentioning how excited her grandmother had been to receive so many heartfelt letters from people all around the world – how Grandmother Beryl had poured over each letter again and again and demanded her granddaughter write back to her favorites.
And mine was one of them.
She loved the way I had depicted Monticello as this little, friendly town in the Southern United States, she’d enjoyed my stories about my family of 10 children (plus two parents, four dogs, countless chickens, a snake, a cat and two loud guineas).
The granddaughter offered thanks for the letter I had written and, in doing so, managed to surprise me.
I wrote that letter with the expectations to bless and help someone else…but then, on the day where I felt out-of-sorts and tired, that blessing was returned.
No cup of tea or Epsom salt foot soak could have healed my spirit better than that.
If there is a moral in any of this, I think it is that sometimes, karma is real. Sometimes, things do come back to you.
The act of giving to others isn’t a boomerang that always comes back – but sometimes, just sometimes, it does.
Post, with alterations, originally appeared as a column in the Jefferson County Journal.