Do you have a penpal?
I do, and she’s incredible. At 92, she’s proud to maintain correspondence with 28 penpals! I met her nearly 20 years ago, while I was living on Chincoteague Island for the summer. We lost touch for many of those years, but we’ve been able to pick up where we left off and exchange letters regularly. Having her sticker-embellished letters waiting for me in the mailbox, month after month, is a gift. But I’ve noticed that her correspondence has also allowed me enjoy other benefits. I highly recommend finding a penpal, for these three reasons:
To Nurture a Meaningful Friendship
My penpal and I were an unlikely pair: she was in her seventies, newly widowed, and I was a 19-year-old college student, feeling at loose ends. We’d sit at a small table on the porch of her family’s ice cream parlor, eat ice cream, and talk and talk. I guess we both were beginning new seasons of our lives, and we were both a little lonely. A few weeks ago, I posted about the epidemic of loneliness, and nurturing a penpal relationship is one of the ways we can keep the lion of loneliness at bay.
Letters, written on real paper with real ink, are a more intimate social media than email, text, or even phone calls. Stationery and handwriting offer an expressive context for your words. You’ll find space to delve into matters of the heart, but the boundaries of tangible pages will force you to distill your thoughts into some kind of order. Writing about an issue might allow you to distance yourself enough to see it with new eyes, and your penpal will often reply with an insight that inspires. Like a flower sheltered in a greenhouse, this kind of mutual respect and appreciation can grow more quickly in letters.
To Gain a Broader Perspective
In our letters, we often discuss a problem or dilemma. My struggles tend to involve finding balance and purpose in life, work, and the in-between moments. Her pain-point is her advanced age–she just wants to make it back to her island each summer. It’s her dearest desire to return to the cottage in the springtime, and to stay there as long as possible, savoring the sweet summer life with her family. There are many threats to her goal: illness, falls, and uncertainty. Now, if that doesn’t put my problems in perspective, I don’t know what will. I’d like to think I’m able to offer her some encouragement, too. With a penpal, you’ll find the reciprocity of compassion humbling.
To Practice Your Handwriting
Early on, my penpal mourned my print handwriting. “I guess no one writes in cursive anymore,” she said. I wrote in cursive for a few letters, just to prove to her that I could do it, then switched back to print. Now, she brags on my handwriting to her family, telling them I have the “neatest print”. Letters are the only time I really slow down and focus on handwriting. Firing off a check or scrawling in my journal are reductive, whereas letter writing is expansive. Let your unique penmanship flourish in a letter to a dear friend. In an increasingly digital society, the personal touch of your own handwriting is more meaningful than ever.
How to find a penpal
Don’t think any of your current besties would be willing to exchange letters? Check out this list of 27 top sites for penpals. You can participate in a monthly challenge, connect with someone overseas, or write letters to military personnel stationed far from home.
Did you ever have a penpal? What were some of the unexpected benefits you discovered?
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