PenPals and then Some

I reconnected with a favourite colleague from 28 years ago the other week. Of course, in sixty minutes, we barely scratched the surface of the nearly three decades of in-between. And agreed that more sessions were needed to get fully caught up.

In extolling the frustrations of playing executrix to her elderly UK cousin’s estate, she shared her sheer delight in finding and reading 75 years’ worth of letters between her cousin and her PenPal. Imagine that. Discovering and reading 75 years’ worth of weekly and monthly letters. Between two very close friends. Spanning several continents and nearly eight decades.

It’s one thing to uncover your parents’ letters, which they wrote back and forth during the war. It is quite another to uncover the letters of two people you did not know, and you can now live vicariously through the pages of their lives on paper.

What changed in those 75 years, you ask? The paper, the writing tools, the language/prose used, and the tone of the notes. Their kids grew up, they became grandparents and great-grandparents, and their spouses passed on.

What did not change? The two ladies had an abiding affection for each other. (Yes, at some point or two in there, they met up in person, hugged, kissed, laughed, and cried together.) The daily ups and downs, setbacks and milestones of life—in theirs, their families and that of their friends.

I had a PenPal once, which might have lasted eight years in total. Today, I have absolutely nothing that is a constant thread from when I was wee to who I am now. Do you?

I believe those of us still living and anywhere north of fifty are very lucky indeed. We have watched and been part of so many changes in the world. We can easily talk about watching the rise and fall of air travel. Marvel at the first man on the moon and the current preparations to land on Mars. We’ve bought all kinds of technology and can talk BOTH analogue and digital.

Cameras have moved from brown boxes to cell phones. Clothing trends have gone from hand-me-downs to designer duds and back to second-hand again. Some of us grew up with gas stoves, watched microwaves come on stream and then laughed when the gas stoves gained favour once again. Some took cursive and typing, home ec and shop. Then, I watched all that fall out of favour and then come back stronger than ever.

Snail mail hasn’t completely disappeared, so stamp collecting is still a thing – albeit smaller than it used to be. But what about that PenPal thing?

If you check Mr. Google, penpals and snail mail still exist. However, what has more commonly replaced penpal status is online groups, online communications, social media, and the dark web.

I certainly don’t need to tell you about all the shortcomings associated with texting, social media and online chat groups. The PenPal concept has morphed. Keeping safe is the most difficult thing to do online these days. Naturallly, there is a website, PenPal.Me, that aims to do that for you.

I was reminded again about PenPaling last weekend because of all the responses you sent me based on that opinion piece. It struck a nerve many times over, and so many of you were kind enough to share your personal experiences, the good and the bad. Some of you even asked for specific advice about providing care in your world. It meant so much to me that so many of you gave up a few minutes of your precious time and shared your thoughts with me.

I felt I was the recipient of many PenPal chains. For that, from deep in my heart, thank you.

As the bonds of friendship continue to unravel in our world, loneliness climbs to the top of the bad marker list. And as we become increasingly disconnected, it’s worth remembering one small fact.

A compliment to ANYONE who has done an excellent job for you always goes better when it is written. Texted, emailed, or written

—the methodology doesn’t matter. What matters the most is when something nudges you like “OMG, that hit home,” “Boy, that was a good job,” or even “Geez, that exceeded my expectations,” you write or type something to that other person immediately.

Because PenPal or not, you give them a window into your heart and help solidify your relationship with them.

We both know our world needs more relationships and far less transactional stuff. And everything always starts with us. May you be the sometime PenPal you never had and make someone’s day brighter.