I have always been a homebody, content with finding adventures within the pages of a book or the aisles of the nearby Target. So, you can imagine that when the COVID-19 pandemic was announced and we were all encouraged to stay home and play our part in “flattening the curve,” I was not too bummed. Frankly, I felt like my life was not changed at all. As days went by, however, despite the relief of being an introvert in a world where social distancing is the new (and heroic) norm, there is no denying that COVID-19 is affecting and altering every person’s life, including mine. Regardless of our differences, we are all being forced to change our routines, habits, and overall lifestyle. Even I can’t just randomly wander around Target with no specific purpose whenever I please or meet friends there for coffee dates.
On top of this, the coronavirus is taking lives all over the globe. And for those of us that are surviving its deadly threats, it is still taking away a vital part of our existence: our social lives and our sense of freedom. Without both, we feel like the prisoners of something that isn’t even visible to the naked eye, disconnected from the outside world, and isolated from those we love and care about. We feel robbed of the things we look forward to and enjoy, from an oxytocin-releasing bear hug from a friend to hanging out in our favorite places surrounded with strangers and our favorite people alike.
Even as a person who finds comfort in spending days with just myself and my spouse, the lack of physical connection and opportunities to relish in the company of a friend or a stranger is taking its toll. It does not matter what the personality type of a person is, it is easy to feel lonely and isolated in times like this.
Last month, my husband nominated me to receive a “bundle of love letters” through More Love Letters (MLL). This was prompted by the fact that I have been feeling like a burden to others due to my disability. I felt uncertain of my future and alone in my own struggles (ironically and very fitting to today’s world, a part of these struggles is feeling involuntarily confined to my home due to my inability to drive and easily transport myself to places). Per my husband’s request, the MLL team shared my story with the world and recruited writers from all over the globe to send me letters filled with encouraging words. I ended up with a total of 465 letters from strangers in a span of one month. It was astonishing how those letters—each and every single one of them—reminded me that I am not alone in my battle against Retinitis Pigmentosa. All of it reassured me that there are people out there rooting for me to get through difficult times. These letters made me feel seen, acknowledged, and connected. I learned then how the art of writing and sending letters have the power to forge a bond between humans and connect hearts from a distance.
As we are all quarantined and isolated from the rest of the world, now is the best time to get into writing letters. It is the time to see for yourself the true power of a handwritten letter sent via airmail, during the hard seasons of life. It’s time that you turn your friends and loved ones into pen pals and take delight in the art of snail mail.
English poet Lord Byron said, “Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company.” Therefore, even though there are tons of other things you can do while quarantined in your home, letter writing is one more thing—an important one—you can delve into. You can write letters, whether that is to those you personally know or to strangers through a program such as MLL. Perhaps you can even find yourself a pen pal through a pen pal program or participate in a mail swap someone might be hosting on social media.
You might be asking, Why bother writing letters when you can just text or video chat or send emails? Fair question. But see, letter writing goes beyond mere communication. Clutching a piece of paper with someone’s own personal penmanship inked on it, one that someone took the time to think of, write, seal with their own DNA, stamp, and send in real time is much more memorable and heartwarming. There is something about receiving a note in the mail, wedged between the stack of junk mail and bills to pay, that makes you feel elated. The connection suddenly becomes more intimate, despite how far away the other person is physically.
Being quarantined inevitably takes away looking forward to a lot of the things we usually look forward to. While scheduling a video chat or phone call with someone you love can be exciting, there is something doubly invigorating about knowing that your everyday mail delivery might contain that correspondence you are waiting for. Plus think about those who are unable or refuse to use technology. Majority of these individuals are the elderly, like your grandparents and others who live in nursing homes who must feel even more isolated as this pandemic puts an even bigger target on their backs. They are likely to appreciate the old-fashioned letter more than a typed message that pops up on a screen. I know my grandparents and other older friends did!
Friends, if you look carefully, you’ll notice that life is full of irony. The coronavirus seemed to have generated another one. Today, while it is of utmost importance to practice social distancing and to self-quarantine (seriously, just do it so we can speed up to the end of this entire fiasco), it is also even more crucial to find ways to stay connected. It is critical in times like this to remind each other that we are not alone and that together, we can fight this war with COVID-19. Social media and technology can no doubt alleviate feelings of loneliness and aloneness, but it can also get exhausting to be glued to electronics day in and day out with the risk of seeing another heart-wrenching, anxiety-inducing news report. So why not try the art of letter writing as another form to stay in touch with others? Why not sit with our thoughts and transfer them onto paper to encourage and support each other during the hard days? Since we can’t give and receive physical hugs and kisses to and from those we love and do not live with at the moment, why not do it through written x’s and o’s?
The letters I received from the MLL community changed something in me. You can do the same for someone else. You can even include photos, artworks, articles from a magazine or newspaper, stickers, postcards, or whatever token you think the other person will appreciate the most. One day you will look back at these letters and realize they symbolize something so important: Human connectedness cannot be easily broken by mere distance and forced solitude. These letters, when they become old and yellow, can be passed down from generation to generation, reminding them of what happened in the year 2020 and despite it all, we got through it with the help of powerful words that can be read over and over again. These letters, unlike electronically transmitted messages, will be there to show that human contact is not founded on mere convenience.