Letter writing helps ease the pandemic blues

The project matched a senior with a Grade 6 student, who was given time in class to write a letter to his or her pen pal

I was hesitant to pick up the senior’s package at the local library fearing that it would contain pictures to colour and notices about activities I could get involved in.

I have difficulty embracing retirement and being a senior, in that order.

The cover page of the package, however, drew me in — one of those idyllic pictures of snow on hilltops and deer munching in the coulees.

I was at a low point during the latest COVID restrictions, but I was still reading everything. Reading continues to be the one activity that I enjoy — I can physically distance when I am doing it, and I can “gather” by myself to participate in it.

So I read the package from front to back. On the page with the sudoku and the senior centre hours, I read a piece submitted by Community Foundations. It was a request for volunteers to pair up with Grade 6 students in a local school in a pen pal project.

This volunteer activity was something I could get behind. A Grade 6 class in a local school was interested in making contact with willing seniors in the community.

I had pen pals when I was growing up, and as an adult, I kept in contact with friends in other countries until one or the other of us would go our separate ways.

I have always liked writing letters, and during lockdown I was writing more and more letters to family and friends. It became a way to fill up a part of the day. It is always exciting to receive letters in the mail, and walking to the post office to pick up the mail is still a big deal to me.

The format for the letter-writing project was simple: each Grade 6 student was matched to a senior and was given time in class to write a letter to his or her pen pal. And the next week, the senior would respond. Over the next few months, we exchanged letters, while taking breaks for holidays or timetable interruptions.

I was intrigued to receive my pen pal’s first letter and was even more excited to sit down and write my letter to her.

As the weeks went by, I looked forward to receiving her letters, so much so that I began to seek out interesting topics to write to her about, pictures that would be relevant to the topics we shared, and stories that I thought she could relate to.

She began to do the same and shared stories of her interest in writing and her plans to be a writer. Letter writing was definitely a way for her to improve her writing skills.

A funny thing happened on the way to the end of the project. I realized that she had really helped me get through a longer than normal winter brought on by COVID restrictions. I felt I had to accentuate the positive in my letters. I never mentioned the pandemic, the lockdown, the rules, the protocols, the masking, the daily updates, the rising numbers, the falling numbers, any numbers.

She never mentioned any of those things either. It was so refreshing to read about her interests and read her jokes and stories. I tried to write only about positive things and she didn’t even have to try to write about positive things. She was a natural at it. Her letters were hand printed in the beginning and then she began to write them on a computer. She included pictures, drawings, riddles, and stories she had developed.

I was motivated to do the same. Through her writing, she encouraged me to concentrate on the good things that have happened in my life. It was inspiring.

Throughout the pandemic, we have been encouraged to think positive and to concentrate on the things we can do rather than the things we can’t do. Those constant reminders seem like platitudes some days, other days less than heartfelt, and most days right up there with the time-worn “have a nice day.”

Sure, the weekly letter writing wasn’t the only thing that helped this senior through the last six months of the pandemic, but it helped.

We are all searching for activities that we can do until we are able to go back to the movies, the plays, the concerts, the games. A little thing like writing a letter to a young girl across town helped me get through the day.

Yes, Virginia, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and your joyful letters helped light the way.

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