This morning I received a lovely letter from my brother-in-law, Joe, and his wife, Karen. They live in Philadelphia and had been planning to visit us here in L.A. For now, that’s not going to happen; all the more reason why it was great to hear from them. I tore open the envelope (having first disinfected it). They often write to us, and even in “normal” times (before the coronavirus) it is always a surprise to discover their letters amongst the bills and junk mail. Inspired by them and thinking about staying in touch with friends and family in our “New Normal,” I decided I would go back to basics and connect the old-fashioned way: writing letters. I wrote two today.
There is something satisfying about putting pen to paper, whether it’s a short message on a pretty card or a long, hand-written letter. And in my opinion, there is nothing more delightful than receiving a note from someone you care about that has been crafted with thought and sent with love. There is a reason that so many songs revolve around letters, including these classics by The Beatles: “Please Mister Postman” and “P.S. I Love You.” Last night I watched the new film version of Jane Austen’s “Emma,” in which plot lines are propelled by letters. It seems fitting as everything has slowed down dramatically, that there is more time to revisit this traditional and deeply rewarding method of communication.
For now, mail (here in the U.S.) has not been disrupted — thanks to the dedication of mail carriers who have found themselves on the front line of the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.), the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), and the United States Postal Service (USPS), there’s currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail. (USPS has announced they’re launching new measures to protect employees.) If you have concerns, however, about sending, receiving, and touching mail because of the virus, then emailing letters may be the best option. Another thought: You could write your letters and send them later, when this pandemic is behind us.
And on that note, it’s paradoxical that I am actually bashing out this particular letter myself on my laptop! You wouldn’t be reading it at all were it not for the wonders of technology, which are currently helping us connect in a way that wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago. It seems amazing that the first smartphones only came out in 2007.
Like all of us, just now, I am deeply grateful for FaceTime, Zoom, and WhatsApp. I appreciate chatting with my colleagues on Slack. Regular “instant” connection can go a long way to ensuring that you still feel part of a team. As I write, one of my daughters (who’s in her 20s) is in her room enjoying a “cocktail party” with friends around the country. I’ve been participating in online yoga classes, as well as a range of free live meditations (like this short, daily harmonic sound meditation) that spiritual groups, churches and mindfulness organizations are offering, which provide a sense of support and community.
Back to letter-writing, my belief is that it serves a number of positive purposes. The very act is bonding. A card or a letter is a gift, the cost is minimal, and it has the power to lift the spirits. Many elderly people at residential homes or those living alone, or in fact anyone currently sheltering at home, under lockdown, would probably welcome a friendly personal note. (I’ve contacted a few homes and assisted living facilities who all said they are encouraging mail from loved ones.) Meanwhile, “Saturday Night Live” (“SNL”) star Heidi Gardner posted on Instagram that she would be sending cards to nursing homes across the United States, asking people around the world to do the same.
And for anyone missing friends and family members (whether they live round the corner or on another continent), this is a great time to revive love letters in the broadest sense of the word. Usually when writing a letter, there’s a richer, deeper quality to the experience, which I am convinced is conveyed to the reader. It’s also creative. It’s a great way to keep kids of any age entertained too — getting them to write notes on cards they’ve made themselves and decorated with glitter and stickers or drawings. And you can keep special letters, guaranteed to bring back moving memories.
Another idea that could be self-supportive right now is to send a letter to yourself with meaningful and optimistic sentiments, expressing any concerns, perhaps, and generally giving yourself a bit of a boost. It may sound outlandish, but I’ve found it helpful.
My final suggestion is to practice a form of inner “invisible” connection: sending love, prayers, and positive thoughts to people you think may be finding everything particularly tough. In fact, in the space of a few seconds, you can send love to entire communities and even countries. There’s no proof that it works, of course. But I believe it can have an impact. And what is there to lose? Why not send healing thoughts across the globe?
P.S. Huge thanks to all the mail carriers and delivery workers everywhere.