On This Day One Year Ago….

I was excited this morning when I pulled up my TimeHop app and discovered that today is a very special anniversary for myself and some very special friends I have made along the way. But, before we get to celebrating let’s go back in time a little to discover how we got to where we are today.

This journey will begin in March 2020. As all of us know, this is when our world changed. We moved into, what I like to call, the never ending spring break. For me, the seriousness of the pandemic didn’t set in until we were informed that our children would not be returning to school after their spring break holiday. At first I thought they will get an extra week, we will all stay inside and this will pass. Really, how bad could it possibly be? I remember being at the grocery store when it was announced that our children would not be returning to school. My children thought I was crazy because I immediately changed my shopping game plan. We headed to the meat counter to stock up on at least two weeks of meat that I could make for dinners, frozen veggies were piled into the basket, canned foods we could quickly heat up, snack foods, lunches to heat up, extra bread to stick in the freezer, and I got one package of toilet paper (that’s all that was left). And then the lockdowns started. My office officially closed it’s doors to the public on March 20, 2020. Any and all customer interactions took place through our drive through or by phone (I work for a bank here locally). We were given a special letter from our company explaining that we were “essential workers” that we had to keep in our cars at all times in case we were stopped on our way into the office . There were no cars on the highway. My normal 30 minute commute to work was now 15 minutes. No one could find toilet paper and if you could there was now a limit as to how much you could buy. Store shelves were empty and shipments were delayed. And we stayed inside. It was devastating for me to watch my normally outgoing kids have to be away from their friends. No more sleepovers, no more just hanging out.

The laughter stopped.

And that is when I knew this wasn’t just going to end. Even if the virus was brought under control we were far from the end of the pandemic. We would be heading into something none of us had ever experienced. It was then that I had to look at my children and say, “It’s time to worry. It’s time to keep ourselves safe.”

We all have our own personal stories of how the pandemic has affected our lives and the lives of those we love. We all have lived through a rollercoaster of emotions; anger, fear, loneliness, etc. We all have missed our loved ones; parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, friends, etc. We have all been on a journey that has led us to uncovering new “pandemic hobbies”. Many have had to learn how to be not only a parent, but a teacher, counselor, doctor, nurse and what ever hat was thrown our way. Many have had to learn how to be alone since before the pandemic they were the only member of their household. Gone were the days that home was home. Many of us have had to learn a new way of working, turning our homes into our offices. And so much more.

The doom-scrolling began. I read everything on Twitter and Facebook. I wanted the connection to something that wasn’t in my house or office. I viewed and liked all the pictures of families and friends getting together outside, six feet apart and wearing our new fashion accessories, the face mask. I tried to visit my mother who lives in an assisted living facility. Our visits turned into window visits. She on her cell phone and me on mine. Trying to make that thin piece of window between us feel as if it wasn’t there. In person celebrations were cancelled. The new world of Zoom Calling was now not only for school but for birthdays, holidays and graduations. We lived in a world apart desperately trying to be together.

Our world changed. Our lives changed. And loneliness set in.

It was during one of my doom-scrolling times that I began seeing this little hashtag taking over my Twitter feed. I thought to myself, “well this looks like fun”. I would tell myself to remember to come back and look at that later. But later was always forgotten. There were so many things that I did during this time to distract myself from what was happening outside of the safety of my home. But time and time again I kept seeing this hashtag on Twitter. #Penpalooza. I sat back and watched as new friendships were made and letters exchanged. Suddenly the miles between didn’t seem so far. I lurked in the dark corners of Twitter and saw the pictures of these amazing envelopes with the treasure of the written word contained inside. I watched the community grow stronger and stronger just as all of us were at our weakest. It was then as I sat in the parking lot of my office one Saturday morning, the 29th of January to be exact, waiting for my associate to arrive that I decided that I was tired of feeling alone in this pandemic world we were living in. I craved human connection. I posted a comment to a tweet from Rachel Syme. She wrote,

So #penpalooza has hit over 10k members (close to 10,500 to be exact) + I promised when that happened I’d do another thread helping people find extra matches! So here is how this will work. If you want an extra penpal (or 5!), reply below with a bit about yourself/location”

It was now or never. It was time. So I replied,

I would love to start writing more and connecting with people. I am in Texas, wife, mother and avid reader. I found during this pandemic that connecting with people through handwritten notes is southing our world has been missing for far too long.”

Little did I know that this one simple tweet in response to Rachel Syme’s post would take me on the adventure of a lifetime.

Within minutes I had several responses to my post. Within minutes I was messaging with strangers who I would willingly give my address to so we could exchange letters. Within minutes my world didn’t seem so small or so lonely. I was amazed that I was reaching out and making a connection. A new fire was lit and I felt more alive and excited than I had in a long time.

When I received my first letter in my postbox I was over the moon. It arrived on the 3rd of February 2021. It was the most colorful card filled with stories and stickers all the way from Michigan.

I couldn’t wait to reply. When I wrote my first letter I had a few pieces of colorful copy paper and plain white envelopes. I can’t remember if washi tape was a part of my vocabulary yet and I had no idea where people were getting the beautiful stationery they were using. It was time to go online and go shopping! I wanted my letters to spark joy when they arrived in my new penpals postboxes. I wanted bits of sunshine to travel the miles and bring a smile to those who received something from me. And Oh Boy! My newest pandemic addiction was born! Stationery! Who knew that there was this hidden world of beautiful paper, tape, stickers, writing pens, etc that I could turn into letters to send my new little circle of friends.

As the weeks went by, more and more brightly colored letters began to arrive. Every night when I would return from work I couldn’t wait to see what my mailman had delivered. Just about everyday there was a little something that traveled from somewhere new and found its way to my mailbox. I would dive into each letter. Reading every word and immediately would sit down, pen in hand to write my response. We spoke of our cities and homes, our families, our passions, what the pandemic situation was in our part of the world. Books, we wrote about what we were reading, made recommendations to each other. Celebrated with each other and supported each other. All through letters. Handwritten letters. No emails, no texting, no chatting on the phone. Letters. Old fashioned, sit down and write a letter.

I believe my friends thought I was crazy! I would tell them about my new journey into the world of penpals and they would look at me as if I was speaking a language they didn’t understand. But they were living in a different world than me. They were okay with the simple exchange of an email every now and again. They enjoyed communicating through text messages (I hate texting, drives me crazy and I only text if I need to). It wasn’t until many, many months later that we had a small gathering at my house to sit outside while our kids swam that I was able to bring out my box of the penpal letters I had received over time. It finally made sense to them. They saw the magic of the letter.

Over time my penpal list has grown. On my first call out into the world of #penpalooza I ended my day with 5 new friends. Five new people who I will forever hold in my heart. Today I have lost count of how many people I write with but if I had to guess it is well over 30. I only guess this number because I bought 40 Christmas cards to send to my penpals and had just a few leftover.

Do we all write consistently? No. Are there some I write with more than others? Yes. Do I write everyday? No, but I try to. Do I currently have a stack of mail waiting for me on my desk? Oh you bet I do! Will I ever tire of sitting and writing a letter to a friend I have never met? NEVER! Am I excited for the day to maybe meet my penpals in person? ABSOLUTELY!

Today I can’t imagine my life without my #penpalooza family. Yes, I said family. Over the year we have all grown through our letters. We have all grown and supported each other online. When a #penpalooza call is made, our community answers. There is always someone, somewhere who is able to be there when needed. There are book clubs, movie nights, craft exchanges, postcard swaps, sticker swaps, you name it and it probably happens somewhere in #penpalooza. And we all support each others stationery addiction. Because, let’s admit it letter writers we all have a secret addiction to stationery now.

So as I close out this On This Day One Year Ago post, I want to let my penpal family know that I cherish each and every one of you and I can’t imagine where I would be today with out you. Thank you for an amazing year filled with handwritten letters that have brought so much joy to my little world.

Keep writing my friends! I know I will!

XOXO Jennifer

P.S. I heard my postman just deliver the mail so I stepped out to get it. And would you believe that I received a letter today from Michigan from the same penpal I received my very first letter from! Much love to all of my penpals!

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