Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My Year of Writing Letters

I love writing letters. I love picking out the stationary, or sometimes making a card. I love putting the pen to paper. As I do, my heart softens and I am present. I love the ritual. And I love the intimacy, the connection that you get through a letter exchange that you just don't get through emails.

I've loved writing letters as long as I could write. As a child, I had many pen pals. My best friend from kindergarten, Teresa, moved away, and we immediately became pen pals, something we kept up for years, finally to reconnect on Facebook years later. My cousin Lindsay, now a published author of middle-age fiction, and I also exchanged letters and stories. My letters were not limited to people I knew, though - I wrote to athletes, politicians, musicians, corporations.

As a young adult, I joined the Peace Corps, and my sole source of communication became letter writing. Sometimes letters would appear on an ox-drawn cart, or I would go to the capital, Niamey, pick up my mail from the Peace Corps office, take it back to my village and slowly and deliciously read each one. Each letter was like a journey, a treasure, a piece of someone's soul. I cherished them and had a special trunk where I kept my letters. At the end of my service, I had enough to fill a suitcase, and brought them to the US with me. After dragging them across the country for several years, I decided I had to part with them, not having enough room in one move, and needing to let go.

Most people did not keep writing me letters after the Peace Corps. We resumed our email communication, or no communication. But my Aunt Ginny continued. And for almost 10 years now, Aunt Ginny and I have had a letter-writing exchange. It is something we both cherish and often profess in our letters. We both use email and Skype, but I think for both of us, we appreciate the intimacy and the different level of communication in the letters.

A few days ago, I received a lovely note from an old friend - the mother of one of my brother's childhood best friends, who I hadn't seen for many years - letting me know she was thinking of me in light of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. It was so sweet, this handwritten card, and to have not heard from someone in so long and to receive such a kind, thoughtful gesture really touched my heart.

While responding to the aunt and my friend, I reflected on the meditative quality of letter writing - that, how, when I write a letter, it is so soothing, that I feel peaceful, present, mindful. When I write a letter, I am fully present. I'm not hopping back and forth between screens, between Facebook and Gmail, with random chats beeping and bopping, and a Skype call coming through. When I write a letter, I write a letter. And that's it. It connects to my heart in a way that email doesn't.

And on reflecting on this, and how I do try to practice mindfulness in my daily life, I thought, wouldn't it be a good practice to try to write a letter a day for a year? If letter writing is a mindfulness practice for me, and I want to integrate more mindfulness into my life, then, why not make this a daily practice? The idea is that this won't be an isolated activity, but that the very act of writing letters daily will help me to bring this presence of mind and heart to other activities, to my work, to chores, to eating, to relationships. To living.

Hence begins my year of writing letters. Starting yesterday (I wrote 3 letters yesterday), July 25, I will write one letter a day for the next 365 days. They will not always be to different people (many will be reserved for Aunt Ginny). The letters will also serve the function of reconnecting with people from the past, much as Mrs. Hofbauer's letter served me. Plus, hopefully they'll brighten people's days. It's nice to get something in the mail that's not a bill, after all.

I'll be using this blog to track the progress - not necessarily everyday, but to keep reflections and insights and stories. I hope, if you're reading this, that you enjoy it!

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