I've talked about military care packages in the past, but today I wanted to turn to something else close to my heart: letter writing. Whether you are a civilian or you're living the military life, there's nothing quite like opening the mailbox to find a message from a loved one.
My first hand-written notes
I vividly remember the first time that I put pen to paper for epistolary purposes. I was in elementary school, and my mom suggested I send letters to two of our closest family friends. Somehow Mom always figured out how to convince us to practice important skills like reading and writing without making it seem boring. I was eager to give this letter-writing thing a try.
The recipients of my first letters were two amazing schoolteachers who never missed a chance to send a card. My handwriting was big and clumsy, but I did my best to make it legible. I included some snazzy original artwork with the messages to add to the entertainment value. Not long after I sent my letters, two neatly addressed envelopes came back to yours truly. This was how I practiced writing as a child, and it was how I came to love letters.
After Nick went to OCS (Officer Candidate School), I gained a new fondness for sending lengthy missives. OCS, like boot camp for officers, transforms civilians into service members. It is an intense experience; communication is reduced to almost nothing for the first few weeks. Letters were the only way to give and get the news.
I told Nick that I would write to him every day, and I wasn't kidding. I wrote about the adventures that took place in his absence. I used the letters to feel connected to him. I was having a bit of an identity crisis at the time. I had to say goodbye to a job in a community that I loved, and I knew I'd be leaving a lot of friends behind. (To be clear, nobody required me to do anything. I chose it. It was not easy to say goodbye, though.) Even though I wasn't in the military, the Navy was changing my life.
I knew that no matter what I was feeling about all these changes, whatever was happening at OCS was probably way tougher. At least I had the option to skip making my bed and watch too much Netflix if I had a bad day. I thought of Nick, who was likely on his face in some nasty patch of dirt, and I offered words of encouragement. I wrote to him about funny stuff that the cat did, and gave him lots of updates about the vegetable garden. Stockpiled letters went out every three days, the point at which the envelopes hit maximum capacity.
The first response
After nearly two weeks of radio-silence, I received a light blue envelope with my address scrawled across the front in Nick's handwriting. The first batch of letters from Newport had arrived! I was so excited that I couldn't even wait to get home to read them. I power-walked toward the park in the center of town, the halfway point between the post office and home. I sat on a bench and devoured the words.
It was like that for 12 weeks. Even after he got his email privileges in the final phase of the school, we still sent snail-mail to each other. The letters said something different. They had a gravitas that you just couldn't get in an email. I flung carefully-written messages with the speed of an internet troll, and I stored little blue envelopes the way Smaug hoarded gold.
Letters on Deployment
During deployment, I often thought of the military families of the not-so-distant past, who relied on mail as their sole source of connection to their loved ones. With regular access to email, I felt like I had it easy by comparison. (Note that email is not always available today. Some service members almost never get access to it. Shout out to the submarine families, who face limited/ nonexistent internet connection, and for whom letter-writing is probably not an effective means of communication.) Even with fairly consistent email access, I still made a point of sending cards and hand-written letters. Sometimes I mailed them on their own, and sometimes I added them to care packages. I hoped the FPO gods would smile upon me with every message I sent.
Mailing things during deployment was always a gamble, but the reward outweighed the risk. The letters and boxes were a tangible way of reaching out to my husband. I knew it would be a morale boost to get something from home. Today, we have all that correspondence as a record of how we were feeling as we went through this process for the first time.
My challenge to you
When I tell people that I frequently send letters, they usually look surprised and say something to the effect of, "Letter-writing is a dying art." I know I am not the only one with a fondness for this form of communication, but I'll keep it going single-handedly if I have to.
When was the last time that you wrote a letter or sent a card? Break the cycle of non-letter writing! Cool stationery is nice, but it isn't a must. You don't need a fancy quill or a $5 card, and you don't have to write War and Peace unless you feel like it. The thought that you put into your letter is the most important thing.
Send one to your friend who lives on the other side of the country/ world, or your reclusive great-uncle, or your mom. Send one to someone who changed your life, and if you haven't told them they changed your life, let them know! Usually, I get a letter when I am in a slump, and it perks me up every time. Be the author of that feeling for someone. Make those Forever Stamps live up to their name. (Note: My favorite stamp-buying experience involved a CVS cashier informing me, "These stamps are forever, girl.)
If you decide to take the challenge, let me know in the comments below! Are you already a letter writer? I want to hear about that too!