I have always been a sucker for the old fashioned ways. As a child, I relished the idea of writing letters and sending them out into the world. Concepts like pen pals and letter exchanges were all I could dream about the first time we were taught to write letters in Grade 2. I spend my summer vacations writing to my cousins back home, and waiting for weeks for their replies to come. As an eight year old, it was beyond thrilling to have our own secret conversations about all the little things that meant the world to us back then.
It was only recently, having to move once again, leaving my friends behind, I was struck with an odd nostalgia for the lost hobby. When was the last time I had written a letter? A postcard? Can’t I just email them? Or send them a long text? I happened to be one of the majority who simply had hoards of unanswered texts and mails at any given time; and this seemed like the best way to reclaim the connections I had.
Coming across Brendan Mathews’ article for Lithub (Taking Inspiration From My Grandparents’ Wartime Love Letters) was affirming- if anything about this wisp of an idea in my head.
“Would any of these connections—of my grandparents to each other, of me to them—have been lost if, instead of handwritten letters, my grandparents had left behind a pile of emails?
Does Helvetica mask the feelings embedded in these messages?”
Thus began my ‘Postcards with Love’ project. What began as a tiny project to reconnect with old friends, to let them know how much they meant to me, turned out to be much more fulfilling for the sender, as much as the reader (if not more).
As an organised lover of lists and journals, I set down to list out the people that have meant something or changed my life in the last two years. What started out as an uncertain scrawl of a name or two, found itself finishing up an odd list of two dozen people. Two dozen loved ones, near ones, millions of midnight conversations, memories and laughter floated to the surface of my memory bowl.
I was overwhelmed and grateful, at once for the people I had to write to. These were all friends I have shared conversations with, who had seen me in the worst and best of times, and would be pleasantly surprised to hear from me.
Picking up postcards from every new place I visited felt like a round of speed dating. Perusing through postcards until I found the perfect one, perhaps an old drawing or an illustration, something that would serve a backdrop for the things I had to say was more fun than I ever pictured. I found myself looking for independent bookshops and quaint little stalls in old town market squares every place I went.
The next step was to find out postal addresses of these two dozen names I only had on my social media, or numbers saved on my phone. Reaching out to my friends, and their loved ones to find their address was just the break I needed from my recluse introverted life. Conversations that began with a simple request for an address led to catching up, updates on new developments and hearty conversations at most.
Settling to write them down was most rewarding. All of a sudden, these little details from my day found their way into the letters. ‘Today, I watched the city strewn with lights and skyscraper tops wrapped up in fog.’ The more I was writing, the more I found myself finding joy in the little details and things every day. All of a sudden, the smiling baby on the tube, the flowers in crack of the pavement, the last line from the last book I had read – all were characters in another I-miss-you tales I was writing.
The wait after sending them off was a nervous tick in my over-thinking head. Would they reach in time? Would they even reach the intended receiver or get lost and cast aside with other unclaimed mail? Would they like it?
From a dozen letters, a couple of heart warming thank you notes and conversations later, here’s what I know. There’s nothing like a handwritten letter the modern day array of emojis and instant messages can replace. Writing those letters felt like it said, ‘I was thinking of you. I was thinking of all the good times we had. Here’s an image captured in time and wrapped in words. They’ve crossed five seas to see you and they’re yours for the taking.’ I have come to realise it is the small things that also take up the most space in one’s heart and brighten one’s day. If one letter, one sentence, one word was all it took to make someone smile, from miles away – I have been underestimating the power of letters all these years.
When was the last time you wrote to someone? When was the last time you received a handwritten letter? Try picking up a pen and paper today, write a letter to a stranger, to yourself, to an old friend, to a new acquaintance, to your grandmother; you never know what could unfurl.