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Classes from Writing Letters to Strangers

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Lessons from Writing Letters to Strangers

Elise Hu, NPR correspondent and Millennial (the “loneliest era”), shares her want for connection through the world pandemic.  In her fear and loneliness she wrote letters to 50 strangers throughout America. 

Per week into California’s stay-at-home order, when our now-familiar mixture of anxious, lonely and stressed emotions have been nonetheless model new, I craved connection. However not the sort obtainable from a display. Inside my pockets I discovered 10 stamps leftover from the vacations, and I put out a tweet: “At this time I’m going to jot down letters to ship by the submit … [Direct message] me your snail mail tackle if you would like a random letter. However heads up I solely have 10 stamps & they’re of Santa.”

On the primary day, I wrote to strangers in Arizona, California, Missouri, New York, Texas and Washington. The following day, I wrote to an 11-year-old who was born in Plano, Texas, the place I grew up. I wrote to a USPS letter service from Minnesota who requested a letter for himself. The 10 stamps ran out shortly, so I restocked. By the point I used to be completed sending an analog paper letter to anybody who requested one, I’d written 50 letters to addresses in each state apart from Alaska and the Dakotas.

Once they requested letters, folks talked about little bits about themselves: That they stay in my previous stomping grounds (Austin and St. Louis). They talked about their children or their pets. They talked about listening to NPR once I broadcasted from Seoul. They largely requested if it was too late to request a letter.

A handful of requests got here from longtime buddies. It tickled me that folk who can name me simply needed this type of expression of affection, all the identical. They — and the others — have been clearly as keen to attach as I used to be, amid stay-at-home orders introduced on by this disorienting world pandemic.

Today, we’re stripped to our most primal longings to outlive. And survival for people means connection and communion wherever we are able to discover it. It could be particularly essential for my era. 1 / 4 of millennials mentioned in a YouGov survey final yr that they don’t have any acquaintances; 27% reported having no shut buddies and 30% mentioned that they had no greatest buddiesAnd that was earlier than the disaster hit.

I’m “very on-line,” so it’s clearly a lot simpler attain far a couple of particular person at a time with a tweet or an Instagram submit. I might have merely despatched customized emails to everybody who requested. However the technique of sitting all the way down to compose a letter by hand, addressing an envelope and stamping it’s infused with further intention. It felt like a technique to present an old school type of caring, the sort that would pierce by the gap and approximate a hug.

I needed to be specific in signaling the letters got here from an actual human, and nothing computerized, so discovering methods to personalize each was key. Once I ran out of my private stationery, I discovered my four-year-old daughter Isa’s doodles in a pocket book and wrote my letters on these pages.

Our lives are upended, uncontrollable and contained by the partitions of our properties. So once I wrote, I requested people what their expertise of this cocooning felt like. Have been they scared and unsure, like me? How did they fill their days? Discover pleasure? I requested many individuals what they realized about themselves throughout this troublesome interval.

I didn’t share quotes or poems, as I generally do once I ship playing cards or letters to buddies. As a substitute, I wrote in regards to the rhythms and happenings of my days. I wrote about Isa singing full-throated your complete time she was on the again of a tandem bike along with her dad. I wrote about how completely happy my neighbors are to see one another, and the way we enjoyment of shouted conversations from throughout the road. I wrote about how lonely I really feel, though I’m quarantined in a home with my household, which incorporates the seemingly nonstop quantity of my three babies. And I allow them to understand how writing these letters filled up my emotional tank, though we didn’t know each other.

I by no means anticipated replies. The satisfaction for me was in writing to folks and figuring out they’d obtain one thing bizarre and uncommon. However the replies ended up being the perfect half. When the recipients obtained them within the mail, a few of them didn’t wait to jot down again by hand. They despatched me direct messages on social media with photographs of themselves and the letters now of their possession…

Proceed studying Elise’s piece, What I Learned About Writing Letters to Strangers Across America on NPR.com.


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