You don’t have to listen to me.
But it may serve you well if you do.
More importantly, it may serve someone else well.
And so, let me share with you something that has the potential to be one of the best choices you’ve made during this pandemic.
In This Time of Self-Quarantine and Social Distancing…
I’m a teacher. I’m a writing professor. I teach people about writing.
I’m also a professor of communication, and I just finished instructing two courses in interpersonal communication. We dissected theories and concepts, nonverbal and verbal communication, work relationships, friendships, and love relationships, self-disclosure, reciprocity, and so many other things about relationships.
In a Ted Talk I shared with the class by Hannah Brencher (see below), the students watched her talk about love letters that she wrote and posted in trees and around her campus. The lesson is about empathy. They listened to the story she told of how she mailed letters to strangers, and lifted up those who were hurting. Each letter was handwritten.
The feedback I received from my students, who are anywhere from 18-25, was incredible. The majority of them talked about how love letters and letters in general, are not a part of their lives—their culture—as they communicate electronically almost every day. They were astounded by the impact Brencher had on people, specifically on strangers. And while there were a few of my students who admitted to writing notes to people (and only a rare few who said they do write letters), 90% of them said they had never written a letter of any kind by hand.
Text Messages are Not Keepsakes the Way Letters are…
As most of us are still isolated and not back to our normal lives, guess what? Now is a great time to write a love letter…or a letter of love…to someone. Putting your feelings on paper of what someone means to you, how you love them, how you are happy they are in your life, can mean the world to that person. One student did say that she wrote her boyfriend a love letter. She also said that he keeps that love letter in his wallet, so that he can read it whenever he wants.
I almost melted when I read that.
I’m Someone Who is Obsessed with Paper…
When I worked as director of publishing and then as a creative services manager, I got to work with printers who taught me a lot about paper. I love the feel of paper, the way paper looks, the smell of a freshly printed page, and the many designs of notepaper, stationery, and card stock that is available to us. I’m someone who prefers to hold a magazine or book in my hand instead of reading on a Nook, Kindle, computer, or iPhone.
Picking out the perfect type of paper for your love letter can be fun. Or, a simple blank sheet of paper will do. While the look of the love letter can help get us in the mood, remember, it’s the words on the page that make the biggest impact. It’s the sentiment.
Love Letters are Keepsakes…
How many text messages have you saved and put in your scrapbook? How many emails have you printed and put into your “forever” box? We don’t do this. Text messages vanish. And while text messages may be wonderful and sweet and loving, it’s just not the same as receiving a love letter. Sure, we may save some texts, but we don’t treasure and save them like we do a meaningful love letter that someone has taken the time to write. The mere act of gliding a pen across a blank piece of paper—that someone took the time to sit and write with YOU in mind—is what makes them so special. And think about that feeling of opening your mailbox and seeing…a LETTER…addressed to…YOU.
And love letters don’t just have to be for your lover. Letters can be written to grandparents, parents, cousins, siblings, friends, old friends, lost friends, nurses, doctors, teachers, coaches, people who inspire you…there are so many who influence our lives.
Pick one and start there.
We Used to Write Love Letters…
In high school and college, at least during my years, there were no cellphones, and computers were just coming into fashion. We had a phone in our dorm room, and that was our primary mode of communication with people (there used to be a thing such as long distance calls). We also had P.O. Boxes, and I loved going to my campus mailbox and seeing if someone had sent me a letter. I used to get some from my mom, dad, and an occasional “someone special” I was seeing. A nice guy who was a minor league ballplayer and kindly took me to a sorority formal when one of my friends refused to go with me wrote me letters from Peoria, IL, to tell me how things were going. I still have those letters, and it was fun to write back and forth. In high school, my friends and I would pass letters to each other in between classes.
Now people text, Snap, and post and comment on stories. It’s fleeting.
But not a letter. That written letter has the capacity to change a life for the better.
If any of this has resonated with you, or if Hannah Brencher’s video spoke to you, I urge you to sit down now and write that letter to someone who means something to you. Put a stamp on it and stick it in the mail. Let them “hear” your words on paper.
It just may be the best thing you’ll do during quarantine.
Stephanie Verni is Professor of Communication at Stevenson University. She is the author of 5 works of fiction and the co-author of one academic textbook on Event Planning. Her character-driven books are set in beautiful Maryland locations and examine the realities of the human heart. Connect with her on Instagram at stephanie.verni or on Twitter at @stephverni. Or, visit her Amazon page at Stephanie Verni, Author.