I am finding it hard how to start this piece, how to number and quantify the different ways I think it’s essential to write letters. It’s like asking me to explain why we should exercise regularly, why we should smile more often, why we should recycle. It is okay to say, it makes you better, brighter, more in touch with yourself. Is that enough? And I don’t want to sound preachy- because for some of us, writing feels like this daunting task once forced upon us by English teachers who reprimanded you for poor grammar and lack of sentence structure. Let me be the first one to tell you: you get an A in letter writing just by writing the letter.
One of my favorite books is Letters To A Young Poet, Rainer Rilke. He was an exceptionally smart man, a philosopher, and writer, the kind of thinker we build modern thought and enlightenment around. But, of all his work, this collection of letterS speaks to me the most as a human, as a lover, as a super confused individual trying to navigate this life. There is something so clear, so honest, and so unguarded in the letters that we simply cannot find elsewhere.
And, so I pose the option that all of us could be a little more of all those things if only we had a space in which to be that, a space to write a letter, and someone on the receiving end. And I would like to go a step further and propose not just a single letter, but many with for the sole purpose of continuing an open dialogue of conversation.
My friend Katie sits down every month and answers letters. She dedicates an entire day to it, makes a ritual out of it. Some of her correspondences have lasted years, old friends, teachers, acquaintances, who hold knack for the lost art of letter writing. And what I always found the most wonderful about this was that it seemed to be a never-ending chess game.
A brief section at the start was left to catch up, any recent life changes, events, or answers to questions about family, and maybe a new love interest. But the rest of the letters seemed to pick up the conversation where the last one left it, some topic or question that the two had mulled over for how long- I don’t know. They were answers that took weeks to receive, and yet it didn’t matter, because they sat outside of time. Questions and conversations that had no expiration because they were larger than the current state of affairs or local gossip. And that is what I think letter writing might do for us. It might take us out of our hamster wheel, slow down time, and give us a space to probe a little farther and deeper into the workings of our minds and the questions we carry with us.
But who do you write to? I recommend someone you don’t talk to all the time. Perhaps a specific person comes to mind who you know might entertain the same interest in writing a letter as you do. Or not. A stranger might be the best person for you to write to. How exciting, someone who knows nothing about you, whom you know nothing about. You could talk about anything- the entire universe is suddenly up for conversation. Write to a solider, write to someone in prison, write to an old lover. Just write to someone, and if you don’t know how to start the letter start it with this:
I think life might be a litter brighter if we got something in the mail now and then that felt like a gift. I was thinking, you might be the sort of person who would sit down and answer a letter. And even more so, I was thinking I would like to know what you think….
Look there, I already started your letter for you.
Grab a pen and a piece of paper and reach out to that vina who you’ve lost touch with. Not only will you feel good, but you never know how much you can turn someone’s day around with just a piece of mail.
(Feature image via Flickr)