In these uncertain and turbulent times, our reaction to the threat of illness is one of the few things we do have control over. Washing our hands does little to stem the contagion of fear and panic, however. Like many people, I’ve been doing some strategic shopping, preparing for the possibility of being at home for an extended period of time, though my recent trip to Staples may look slightly different than what you might expect. My paper products aren’t of the variety you see disappearing off the shelves.
I have friends who have isolated themselves by choice and know others who live in care facilities that are on lock-down and not allowed visitors. Many of us will be facing the same sort of situation in the weeks ahead. One thing I can do is reach out to others through cards and letters.
One way I’m handling the heightened anxiety is by journaling more, reading a daily devotional, and writing more letters and cards.
Until there are restrictions on mail delivery, a possibility that concerns me even more than a shortage of toilet paper, reaching out to others through the mail is a way to stay connected while following the social distancing mandate. Here are some simple ways to begin your own snail mail campaign:
(Condensed from Called to Be Creative, to be released by Familius in September)
“In this era of texts and e-mails, a handwritten letter might seem an outdated practice, but what if a simple piece of paper and a pen could make the world a better place? Research has demonstrated there’s something beneficial to our health and happiness when we put pen to paper. Writing a letter can be a mindful practice, serving as a way to organize and calm the mind. In one study, Kent State professor Steven Toepfer discovered that having students write three letters a week, spending fifteen to twenty minutes on each letter, decreased depressive symptoms and increased happiness and life satisfaction significantly.
When your letter-writing includes gratitude, the beneficial effects were heightened. A study at the University of Pennsylvania found that when participants were assigned to write and deliver a letter of gratitude, they immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores, an effect that could last up to a week.
Of course, the letter-writer isn’t the only one who benefits from the exchange. Who doesn’t get a little thrill when they see something other than bills and advertisements in their mailbox? And while we’re unlikely to print out an e-mail and save it, handwritten letters can be treasures in years to come. I recently spent several cold winter days organizing my mother’s letters written to her mother in the 1960’s and those she’d written to me thirty years later into archival-safe sheet covers in leather-look binders. Reading through them was like visiting with her ten years after her death.
Whether you’re a new fan of the old art, or a seasoned letter-writer like me, here are some ideas to help you get started on saving the world, one letter or handwritten note at a time.
#1) Write a thank-you note to someone who doesn’t expect it, but certainly deserves it. Pen a thank-you missive to a former teacher, the nurse who did such a good job caring for your spouse during their cancer treatment, or the barista at the coffee shop who never fails to smile. There are unsung everyday heroes among us who are rarely acknowledged for the difference they make in other’s lives. Your accolades might just make their day, maybe even their week.
#2) Send a letter or card to someone in the military. The website “Operation We Are Here” includes a listing of organizations that receive cards and letters to distribute to the military community, including deployed military personnel, wounded warriors, home front families and veterans. http://www.operationwearehere.com/IdeasforSoldiersCardsLetters.html
#3) Support a cancer patient. Sign up to be a volunteer “Chemo Angel,” becoming a buddy to a cancer patient currently undergoing treatment. https://www.chemoangels.com/ You choose what type of angel you want to be: someone who sends notes and gifts throughout treatment, a card angel who commits to sending greeting cards, or a prayer angel. Another group is Girls Love Mail, sending letters and cards to women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. https://www.girlslovemail.com/
#4) Send cards to children in the hospital. My grandson was five when he was diagnosed with cancer. Over the next three years, as he underwent treatment, he ended up in the hospital for days, weeks, and even more than a month after he underwent a stem cell transplant. Greeting cards, small toys, DVD’s, and handheld game systems were invaluable to making his hospital bearable, for him and his mother, who slept on a couch in his room. Ask your local children’s hospital how you can help brighten a child’s stay. This group collects cards for hospitalized children: http://www.cardsforhospitalizedkids.com/
#5) Send gift cards to the parents of hospitalized children. When you send greeting cards to children in the hospital, consider their parents, too. While my grandson had meals served to him, my daughter had to eat food she brought, utilize the vending machines in the hospital, or go to a nearby café. The cost of gas to get back and forth to his many appointments and treatment was exorbitant, too. Generous donations of gift cards for local coffee shops, fast-food places, and gas stations were invaluable.
#6) Write to your children or grandchildren. When I left home for college, I’d always check the mailbox at the dorm. My parents and a couple of my sisters did not disappoint; that first year I received at least one letter a week. I still have those letters, some forty years later. Even when I lived a block away from my grandchildren, I’d surprise them with a card in the mailbox occasionally, or splurge and have a cookie bouquet delivered. Now that I live an hour away, it’s even more important to keep in touch. I’m not one for face-timing, but I like to have something in their mailbox from Grandma Mary.
#7) Mail a postcard to Postcrossing. Like postcards? If you want postcards in your mailbox, you can register with Postcrossing http://www.postcrossing.com/ When you send a postcard, you’ll receive a postcard back from another participant somewhere in the world. With nearly 800,000 members in 210 countries, approximately 350,000 postcards are traveling to mailboxes right now in this manner.
#8) Have a secret? Share it with PostSecret. http://www.postsecret.com/ Whether it is a secret regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession, or childhood humiliation, you can reveal anything, anonymously, on a postcard, briefly but creatively. This is a group art project and shared postcard secrets can be viewed at http://www.postsecret.com, where you can also find the current address to send your secrets.
#9) Get creative with envelopes and stamps. You can find envelope templates online, or take apart an envelope and lay it on an old map, decorated scrapbook paper, or even a page from your favorite magazine to cut out your own envelope pattern. Fold, and glue the edges shut. Use blank white address labels or a black marker to write the recipient’s address. As for stamps, ask at the post office what designs are available and purchase those that add a little fun to your mailings. I purchase vintage unused postage stamps on ebay for a discount. My last order was for $50 worth of 32-cents stamps for $34, a significant savings for this avid letter writer. I’ve used Vietnam Wall stamps to send letters to a Vietnam Vet and cartoon stamps for letters to my grandchildren. Since I’m never sure what I’m going to get in these lots of discounted postage, I wonder what the recipient thinks when they see a “Stop Alcoholism” or a 1972 “Family Planning” stamp on their envelope.
#10) Find a snail mail pen pal. “The Letter Exchange,” https://letter-exchange.com/index.html is a forum that includes a print magazine, pen-pal connection listings and fun articles for fans of letter-writing. Another forum for letter writers is
Letter Writer’s Alliance:https://www.letterwriters.org/