This upcoming new year will mark an important milestone for me and a unique person in my life-
I’ve been writing to a girl I’ve never met for the past ten years.
It all started in fifth grade when my language arts class paired with another class in Illinois. We sent letters throughout the school year to a student in the opposite class, our new pen pal. I wrote my first letter to Kendra and, a short time later, it all became real when I got one back! I am so grateful that my teacher gave us this opportunity because it’s given me this different dimension to my life and it’s been a blast!
Kendra knows all of the big (and little and sometimes even minor 😉 ) things that go on in my life. We don’t have to pretend to be someone we’re not. We can write with authenticity and without fear of judgement, something that’s not always guaranteed in our day-to-day lives.
I may have never heard her voice and only know what she looks like from pictures, but she’s so far beyond the label of stranger or even acquaintance. I mean, we finished up elementary school “together,” tackled the emotional roller coaster that is middle school “together,” tried to figure out our plans for the future during high school “together,” and experienced many of the same firsts that come with going to an out-of-state college. Together.
Over the miles and through the years our words have taken hold with each other. We have very different interests, but we still always have something to fill up multiple pages. We’ve been doing snail mail this entire time and intend to keep it that way. We don’t text, email, Facebook message, or Skype. We may send a text every now and then on each other’s birthday or if we need to verify which address to mail to around holidays (college breaks make timing difficult sometimes!), but it’s been so cool to be able to preserve the long-lost art of handwritten letters. It’s so exciting to walk to the mailbox and see that familiar handwriting on an envelope!
I’ve never met anyone else who maintains a friendship contained in colorful, doodled pages developing from carefully spaced fifth-grade print, to flowing ninth-grade cursive, to some mixed scrawling of the two as college freshmen.
Our handwriting certainly wasn’t the only thing that grew throughout this past decade. In fifth grade, getting each other as pen pals let us break out of the classroom. It was this excitement about the almost incomprehensible thought that someone our own age who we’d never met would be reading our letter halfway across the country. In middle school, we started finding ourselves. I couldn’t even tell you what we wrote about over those three years because I can’t remember (and probably wouldn’t want to to be honest), but you know how middle school life is. 😉 In high school, we freaked out about college life and degree decisions. Is this really what I want to do for the next four years of my life? Will I get in? Do I want to get in? Have you talked to your roommate yet? Basically a million and one thoughts about this incredible new chapter of our lives we were about to open as everything we had ever known closes behind us.
And now, having been in college for a few semesters, we are able to grab life by the horns. Kendra’s doing awesome things and has always been supportive of my endeavors as well. This unique relationship has helped me with self-reflection in ways I couldn’t have ever imagined.
We’re not perfect. We don’t write every other week, but we still put so much effort and care into each letter that having a month or two (or three or four sometimes, sorry girl) doesn’t take away from each new development in our story.
Having a pen pal is an experience I wish every kid could take part in. It teaches you the value of communication and the power of words. You know how in texting things can get misconstrued because there’s no body language or tone of voice to provide the additional context? And you have to hurriedly reply back to explain yourself? You can’t do that in letters. When physically putting pen to paper, you learn how to describe what you’re talking about effectively and to always explain any seemingly blunt opinions so that they aren’t so blunt anymore. You see encouragement, compassion, motivation, and adventure. You get to know not only another person, but another family and community as well.
Here’s to self-discovery, connection, and another decade! Kendra, I’m so thankful to have you in my life. <3
“Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company.” -Lord Byron
If you’re interested in finding your own pen pal, below are a few ideas!
Think of any long distance friends you may have fell out of contact with.
Think of any long distance family friends you don’t know so well.
See if a long distance friend has another friend who would like to write to you.
Check out the following websites (note: I haven’t personally used these sites so I recommend that you think about these/others carefully to find the best fit for you and verify your information will be secure)
~Have you ever had a pen pal?