There’s nothing like a human connection. We can survive not being able to go to movies or eat out at restaurants; we can muddle through distance learning and working remotely. It’s another thing entirely to survive being deprived of human interaction.
It’s a weird revelation that’s come out of the pandemic—for all our advancements in technology and speculation that instant gratification has removed us of all patience—we cannot replicate face-to-face, same-room, human interaction we instinctively crave on an almost cellular level.
Of course, we have video calls, and Romeo and Juliette-esque window pining/shouting at each other, but it lacks something. For me, it became one of those situations where I was (virtually) surrounded by people, but feeling totally alone. Then, miraculously, Past-Ashley (the “me” of several days, months, years ago) provided a connection that tugged at my soul and frankly, filled it.
I read a good self-care tip: hide things for yourself to find later. Put some spare money in your jacket pockets before putting them away for the season for a nice surprise six-to-nine months later; clean something ahead of time so you don’t have to deal with it later; leave yourself Post-it notes full of words of affirmation (“You look great!” “You got this!”) in drawers, sun visors, etc. for some quick pick-me-ups when you least expect it. I subscribe to this idea, but with a twist: I leave letters from those I love scattered amongst my possessions.
The Power of Letters to Connect with Those I Can’t be With
I keep a lunch note from my sister that she gave me when I was in middle school taped to the back of a calculator. A passed note from high school in the back of notebook; a quickly scribbled note from a college roommate letting me know exactly why our fish, Sharknight, was listlessly swimming in Tupperware instead of his tank,* and letters, lots and lots of letters. Birthday cards ranging from ages seven and up, sympathy cards for beloved family members and pets past, get-well soon cards from various illnesses, congratulatory cards for graduations and awards, and thinking-of-you letters that talked about nothing at all.
Most of them stay well-kept in a box, but I scatter a select few around my belongings. My nieces, curious (and boundary-less) little things that they are, have found a few whilst rummaging through my books and drawers and have delighted in hearing who they’re from, why they’re writing, and what they said. More recently, they found a letter from my mom (their grandma) shoved deep in my nightstand underneath emergency make-up remover wipes and a spare pair of reading glasses. The envelope was sparkly and rainbow colored, and that led to a very immature conversation (on my end) on why “No, you can’t have the envelope; it’s mine. I don’t care that I don’t need it, it’s mine.” The conversation ended with a very simplified, awe-inspiring moment of explaining a mother’s love, and how her saying she’s proud of me and loves me is something I wanted to keep close by, right in my nightstand, if ever I need to hear it in the middle of the night.
It’s now a game for them—finding letters of mine—and it’s led to a few disasters of haphazardly tossed (expensive and very old!) books across my floor and scattered writing utensils and office supplies on the carpet, but it’s become a treasure hunt that I can’t bring myself to stop, especially when they discovered pictures they’ve drawn for me in their findings.
Finding those letters, for me, is more than a trip down memory lane; it’s a visit to a friend, colleague, or family member whom I can’t be with right now. It’s a reminder of their care for me, that they think of me, even when we can’t be together. I trace the handwriting that’s so distinctly theirs it feels like their voice. The little cross-outs and doodles on the margins make me think of all their little quirks—how my roommate would absent-mindedly braid her hair when she was stressed or planning (plotting) something. How my best friend throws her whole body into telling a story, like we’re playing charades. How tightly my mom can hug, despite how tiny she is. In some ways, in many ways, the power of a letter makes me feel closer to them than seeing them on a screen can.
There’s a connection that paper and ink provide that can’t be found elsewhere. If you don’t believe me, dig out an old card—one that has more written on it than “happy birthday” and the sender’s name—and read it again. And when you’re overtaken by the warmth you feel, pass that feeling on by taking the time to pen your own letters to friends and family. Let them know how re-reading their letter made you feel, how thinking of them has eased your loneliness or brought a smile to your face. Getting a letter in the mail, especially during the times we live in, makes a louder statement of care and consideration than a ringtone can.
*For inquiring minds: the drunken night prior, my dear roommate and her pals thought Sharknight would enjoy a drink, too, and poured vodka into his tank before later realizing “that might kill him,” and putting him in GladWare for safety. But then they got tired and fell asleep. And now she had to go to class. But the fish seemed fine and she would take care of it after work. P.S. Sharknight lived, though he never seemed to trust her feeding him after that.
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