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The Power of Penpals

Just last week, I experienced a joyous thrill after I turned into my driveway and made the impromptu decision to stop by my mailbox. Pulling out the ever-slimming pile of snail mail, I flipped through the items with the classic wrist flip, as those letters addressed to my parents wound up at the back of the pile. Amidst the bills, bank statements, and lawn-care flyers, a neat, hand-addressed letter sent my spirits soaring: it was addressed to me. Not only that, but the writing on the outside was refreshingly crisp – just by reading the label, I could feel the energy and vitality that I’m certain my cousin poured out on the other end of this letter’s voyage.

Receiving a good old-fashioned letter in the mail brings a sense of nostalgia – one, I would argue, that we need to hold onto in this increasingly technological world. Continuing the tradition of having a corespondent through a hand-written letter is imperative if the experience is to stay alive, and the solution, to me, is obvious: everyone needs a pen pal. Start by deciding on one person, one letter. Rifle through that drawer of loose-leaf paper, test a few pens until you find one that leaves actual ink, instead of a mere indent, on the page, and compose a letter. If the singular year learning cursive in elementary school wasn’t enough for it to stick in any legible manner, go with print – no one’s judging.

Don’t know what to say? That’s okay too. Just start writing; pretend you’re having a conversation. If you don’t see them all that often, chances are they will want to know what you’ve been up to as well. Then you can shift the focus to them, inquiring as to how they’ve been, what they’ve been doing, and what they’re looking forward to.

Where a text can be a snapshot into someone’s day, a letter is a glimpse into someone’s life. So much more can be covered, so many more topics can be addressed, and with a letter, it is necessary to pause, sit down, and respond – creating time for thorough, thought-out answers. Taking time to respond to a letter is therapeutic in itself. It requires reflection and evaluation of one’s week, and it allows the writer to slow down and take a break from whatever hectic schedule they’re dealing with.

Whether it is a birthday card, a condolence letter, or just a note to check in, a hand-written note means so much to the person receiving it. It means that the writer took the time to put together the letter; it shows that they care. Having saved every birthday card and hand-written note I’ve ever received, it is so special to take down the lightly-dusted hatbox from my closet shelf, sift through the miscellaneous mementos, and page through old letters that I received years ago but continue to cherish today.

As I rushed to open the letter, my younger brother peering eagerly over my arms to see, I couldn’t stop smiling. Maybe it was because I haven’t seen my cousin in almost two years, miss her dearly, and adore any word I hear from her. Maybe it felt like a gift after a long day at school. Or maybe I was just excited to receive a letter. Whatever the reason, that letter was a highlight in my day, and now I get to return the favor and send one back.

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