I love to read.
I love to read just about anything – newspapers, magazines, comic books, nonfiction and fiction.
I love to read crime thrillers, spy mysteries, love stories, historical fiction, books on psychology or philosophy or about meaning or how to declutter my house…
You get it, I love to read.
But what I love most about reading is great storytelling – storytelling that makes me feel alive or makes me feel connected to something bigger. I love storytelling that shows me something deep about the person who’s writing or transports me to a different place or makes me feel I belong, that I’m not alone.
And sometimes when you read, you feel a flash of recognition or a moment of insight that is so brilliant it stops you in your tracks.
I had that experience when I read the book Americanah. The story is a complex one, but in this section of the book we hear the voice of a man who loves a woman with whom he’s now estranged:
“He began to write to her …hoping she would reply and then later looking forward to the writing itself. He had never told himself his own story, never allowed himself to reflect on it…. Writing her also became a way of writing himself.”
Wow! That passage reminded me of how writing letters to my sister helped me survive a difficult time in my life.
Hard Times? Letter Writing to the Rescue
My freshman year in college was a hard one. I was struggling to figure out who I was. I was so lonely and scared. I’d never been away from home for an extended period, and I felt disoriented, lost.
But then I started writing to my sister, my almost twin, Lisa, who was just one year younger than me. She knew me and she wrote back.
I wrote about my struggles and she responded by reminding me of my strengths or made me laugh with a story about our crazy cat. We wrote THREE TIMES A WEEK.
Those letters allowed me to write openly in a safe way and feel supported. She reminded me of my ability to problem solve, to have fun, to make friends, to persist.
Writing to her helped me change how I saw myself. Yes, college was hard, but when I wrote about things that were hard and reflected on how I made it through, I started to see myself as the strong woman I was in high school. Yes, I was shy, but writing about our friends in New York reminded me of the good friend I could be if I’d just open myself up to meeting new people.
So writing these letters to Lisa became “a way of writing myself.” Of finding myself and my resilience.
I’m not going to lie and say everything got better right away, because it didn’t. But slowly, through writing and reflecting in a safe place in those letters and having the support of my best friend, my sister, I gained confidence and strength.
I still have her letters, that’s how much they mean to me.
But you don’t have to wait until you’re struggling to share your stories through letters.
Sharing your story with friends in a letter can strengthen existing friendships. Sharing stories with children or grandchildren allows you to share family history and traditions, values, words of wisdom and love all without lecturing. And letters are an amazing way to share gratitude with friends, mentors and family.
And in writing these letters you get to tell your own story and reflect on it — you discover more about you.
Do you have a letter you’re itching to write—one to share hopes and dreams and values with your graduate? One to thank a teacher or mentor? One for a friend for a special birthday?
Letters last a lifetime and help you express just how much you care for the people in your life, even yourself. If you aren’t sure where to start, I invite you to grab a copy of Deepening Connections with Legacy Letters where I show you how to craft one from the heart.