When was the last time you wrote someone a letter for no reason at all? And with a pen or a pencil, instead of email? I asked myself this question while stuck on the subway one day, listening to a podcast featuring an author and speaker named Hannah Brencher. And I realized: It had been too long. Brencher was telling a story about a letter she received shortly after her grandmother died. It was from her mother, and rife with grief. “It’s funny how letters can transport you. They can lift you out from the space you’re in and put you right beside that person who’s writing to you, from their corner of the world,” she says. Through this letter, Brencher begins to see her mother as a full person and not just “an emergency contact” or “a person to call on a bad day.” It’s this letter — and the ones that they continue to send to each other — that mark the beginning of their real friendship.
A handwritten note can come in many forms — even when we’re spending more time indoors due to the coronavirus. You can send a letter in the mail, or you can place a sticky note on the notebook or computer of someone you’re quarantining with. Or as I remembered last month, you can even scribe a message on the inside of a book. I was packing up my apartment in Manhattan to move to Brooklyn, and came across an old book of quotes. It was a gift my mom gave me when I was in high school, a collection of over 400 “quotes and passages from the heart.” I opened the cover that day and saw her unkempt cursive, dated 3/19/10, six days before my 17th birthday. I was going through a severe depression at the time, and she wrote to me that I was special and worthy and wonderful and sensitive, and that, most importantly, there’s nothing I could do that would change how much she loves me. She repeated the word “nothing” at the end, underlining it for effect.
I have “found” this note on numerous occasions over the last decade. Finding it is never a surprise as much as it is a reminder of my mom’s vibrant love for me. It provides a feeling of permanence that I might not feel in, say, a text message. This idea is something that Brencher meditates on in her episode: “It’s the letters, tattered, and worn, and losing their ink in some places, that I’ll keep holding onto,” she says. “I’ll keep holding them tight — tighter and tighter — and extra tight when the day comes, the day when I can no longer hold you.”
Listening to this episode of Meditative Story and finding the note from my mom have pushed me to be more active in my letter-writing pursuits, so I’ve been taking two minutes a day to do so. Sure, letter-writing can take hours if you let it (and have the time), but I’ve found that in just two minutes a day, I’m able to write a note to an important person in my life. I’ve noticed immediate benefits since beginning to practice this Microstep of taking a couple of minutes a day to hand-write notes. Research shows that gratitude, which I’ve been expressing in my letters, can improve everything from your physical and mental health to the quality of your sleep.
There are endless ways you can write a letter to someone, even in today’s circumstances. Just yesterday I sent a photo of my handwritten note to a co-worker, letting her know I appreciate the way she brings levity to my day. And I’ve sent a letter to my mother, this one with an envelope and a stamp. It’s currently in transit, and when I think of the envelope, I imagine it swimming through space and time, speeding through the air to reach her, so that we can be beside each other.
Listen to all the episodes of Meditative Story, sponsored by Salesforce, here.
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