“Sometimes a letter is better than a phone call. It’s nice to get something besides bills and junk mail.” –A wise woman, age 95
Texting and emailing are fast, but let’s write someone a letter. If we text and don’t get an immediate response, we believe we’re being ignored.
If we email and don’t get a nearly immediate response, we believe we’re being ignored.
If we write a letter and don’t get a reasonably-timed response, we think the other person is busy. It takes time to write a letter, address an envelope, put a stamp on it, and drop it in a mailbox—it might be weeks before we believe we’re being ignored.
Let’s write someone a letter. We’ll write to someone we don’t see because of the pandemic. Or someone we haven’t talked to in a long time. Or someone who lives down the block but we don’t see because of the pandemic. Or someone who lives in assisted living or a nursing home whom we’re not allowed to see because of the pandemic.
The pandemic has shrunk our worlds. Maybe we don’t have much to say in a letter. Yet, we can say something, almost anything. Remember our 95-year-old wise woman, It’s nice to get something besides bills and junk mail.
On the table, our blank piece of stationery resembles a wide-open prairie unbroken by forests or mountains. We grab a pen and write words, our tracks across our prairie. Perhaps our minds become as blank as the endless prairie sky on a still day. We need to look down, think small, see the individual prairie grasses and flowers.
We can write about
- our dog who scratches its back on the cedar bush when it’s outside.
- our cat who’s playing with our pen while we’re writing.
- the green beans growing in our garden.
- the rabbits who ate our tulip blossoms.
- rearranging our furniture. (This counts as an indoor workout during the pandemic.)
- our four-year-old grandson who told his mother, “Well, if you don’t look in my room, it’s nice and tidy,” when she asked him if it was clean.
- the book we read, the TV show we watched, the movie we streamed. (But we’ll play nice and avoid spoiler alerts.)
- unexpected objects we found when cleaning our drawers and closets. (Eventually, we’re all bored enough to pandemic clean.)
- finishing the sweater we started knitting five years ago.
- the 1,000-piece jigsaw we completed in a week.
- the spicy chili we made that makes our eyes water but clears our sinuses.
- our winning streak at Yahtzee.
- our favorite sports team.
We can grumble about
- the weather. It’s expected. We want to know if it’s hot, cold, rainy, snowy, windy, or foggy. Honestly, we do. (It gives us permission to fill up some of our prairie land on our paper with our weather report.)
- work, spouses, children, parents, pets, anything. We want to know we aren’t the only ones who don’t have a Brady Bunch life. Thankfully, handwritten letters don’t live in cyberspace.
- the upcoming forecast. If we still have space on our page to fill, we can end with more weather. (It’s not the same as complaining about our current weather because this is forecasted weather.)
- our favorite sports team.
We can describe the setting in which we’re writing our letter:
- the waning daylight or the full moon shining outside our window,
- the sleeping children down the hall or the dog curled up by our side,
- the falling snow or the drenching rain,
- the orchid that bloomed yesterday or the Christmas cactus that’s fading,
- the Irish folk music or Madam Butterfly springing from our radio.
In our letter we can thank
- a parent, a sibling, a child, a relative for some kindness, past or present.
- a friend who’s always there for us.
- the former neighbors who welcomed us into their homes when we were children.
- our eleventh-grade teacher who believed we could write.
If our letters aren’t that interesting, we’ll take comfort because even if we’re boring someone paragraph by paragraph, they can’t interrupt us. But they’ll read our letters because they came from us, and we wrote to them. Our ho-hum letters ease the pressure on them to entertain us with subtle wit and scintillating stories. And we’ll read their letters because they wrote to us and answered our letters.
We’ll write letters because we’ve run out of drawers, cupboards, and closets to clean.
[This essay was inspired by my friend, Phyllis, who turned 95 years old on January 31, 2021. She also inspired the title. I send her cards and letters, and when she thanked me the day after her birthday, she said, “Sometimes a letter is better than a phone call. It’s nice to get something besides bills and junk mail.”]