As this Covid-19 virus is keeping a big part of the US indoors, we might be inclined to just turn on Netflix and wait out our time. But what if we can do something more impactful? Like writing to people who are truly isolated: elderly in nursing homes, people with immune diseases, and so many more? If you are feeling overwhelmed by the thought of writing a letter to a complete stranger, I have you covered! Below you will find some great ideas on what you can write.
Why do it in the first place?
You might feel super excited to have a few days off of work, and just get to spend some time at home. But for a lot of people, this is already a reality in their day-to-day life. Elderly in nursing homes don’t leave their residences as much as you and I, with maybe a few trips outside throughout the year as their highlights. Now with the extra precautions taken to protect their physical health, the far majority of elderly will receive little to no visitations in the coming months. Loneliness is already very common among the elderly. While I am all for keeping them physically healthy, I can only imagine what these measures are doing to their emotional wellbeing. And while we have plenty of online avenues to reach each other (Facetime, Zoom, etc), not all elderly are as tech savvy.
Writing a letter gives someone a bit of distraction from their day-to-day routine. Moreover, seeing their name on an envelope shows them that someone is thinking of them – that they are loved! That someone took the time and effort to write them a letter, share a story, tell them that they matter. It has a big impact on someone! And while a Skype call may lift someone’s spirits for a bit, a letter is something they can look back on and re-read multiple times. Don’t ever underestimate the power a written word can have on someone. It can calm their nerves and help create tangible memories.
Now: what the heck can I write to someone I don’t know? Below you find some ideas to get you started.
Just start writing
Starting a letter to a stranger might feel intimidating, but once you start, I can assure you – words will start flowing. My best tip: write as if you started a conversation with someone in the line at the grocery store. Tell them about the weather, what is going on in your life, or a funny thing you read on the internet. Anything goes!
Write something encouraging
While it might be easy to unload your worries and frustrations on paper, letters to strangers are an act of kindness: make sure yours brings joy! Write something that will encourage someone in a time of loneliness. Maybe an write inspiring anekdote, recite a poem that inspires you or share a life lesson. Something that might seem small to you can have a big influence on a stranger, so go with your gut.
Write something thoughtful
One thing that lonely people don’t hear often enough is that they matter. That someone is thinking of them. That they have worth. Seeing those words on paper, can reach someone deep in their heart – and can be even more powerful than hearing those words said in person. Something about words on a paper makes it real, solidifies them, makes them more true. And as mentioned before, letters can be re-read over and over.
Write something personal
Another way to approach a letter to a stranger, is to write something about yourself! Write about the family you have, and how they bring you joy at the moment. What life lessons you learn. Maybe talk about your own grand parents, what did you learn from them? Reading about someone’s life can form a great distraction for a lonely person. It lets them live vicariously through your story, and give them hope for the future. When talking about yourself though, make sure you still focus on the other person: don’t make it all about yourself!
Topics to avoid + Best practices
As you write your letter to a stranger, please remember: they are a stranger! This seems very logical, but you don’t know where they stand on topics as religion and politics. It is therefore best to avoid those kinds of topics. Some best practice tips:
- Write legible and slightly larger than you normally would: not everybody has 20/20 eyesight!
- Write your letter by hand – this makes it so much more personal than a typed-up letter.
- Don’t make your letter too long: 1 page should be more than enough. Even just a post card with a short message makes someone’s brighter! Short and sweet is great.
- Writing a letter to a stranger is an act of kindness: make sure your letter is not about you, but really lifts up the other.
- Don’t outright ask them to write back, or write in a way that compels them to reply. This puts pressure on an act that should only bring joy. Feel free to include your return address to give them the option to write you back, but don’t put the expectation on them to write.
- Still stuck? The Letters To Strangers project has created some sample letters to get your juices flowing! I also included 2 sample letters I sent to the first 2 addresses submitted myself! You can also follow these Instagram accounts for inspiration and letters to strangers: @lettertoastranger, @l2smentalhealth, @strangersproj.
Some ways to make your letter even more impactful:
- Be creative! Use colors, your craft skills, anything! It instantly gives joy to whoever opens it!
- Involve the kids. Now that schools are closed for the foreseeable future, consider writing a letter to a stranger as a fun way to fill the afternoon! Have them each draw a beautiful drawing, and write a small note with their personal message to accompany their drawing. In an afternoon, you can change the lives of 2-3 elderly.
As mentioned earlier, the elderly in our community will really feel the effects of this Covid-19 virus. I am doing my part in placing value on this group through a new project: Love Notes. You can send me your letter to a stranger, and I send it, in a calligraphy-addressed envelope, to someone in my database that truly deserves it. You can contribute to this database by submitting an address as well, if you know someone who needs a little bit of extra snail mail love in this time.
Another way to make a difference: order a letter kit, which comes with a beautiful bespoke flat card, addressed to your loved one, and a calligraphy-addressed envelope – ready to go with postage.
Now if you still need some inspiration, here are two letters I wrote to the first 2 strangers submitted to the address list.
Sample Letter 1
We don’t know each other, but I just want to encourage you today in this crazy time we are living!
I came across this poem today, and I thought I’d share it with you today!
” When things start to feel
Like things should have
Been better this year,
Remember the mountains and valleys
That got you here.
They are not accidents,
And those moments weren’t in vain
You are not the same.
You have grown and you are growing
You are breathing, you are living.
You are wrapped in
And things will get better.
There is more to you than yesterday”
– Morgan Harper Nichols
I don’t know your situation right now, but just know you are not alone. There is someone thinking of you.
Sample Letter 2
You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. But that is totally ok!
My name is Charlotte, and most likely, I am not in the same position in life as you. But we have something in common: in this time we probably both miss our loved ones.
My family is all overseas, in the Netherlands, and I was supposed to go visit them last week, after not seeing them for a year and a half. Naturally, I was super bummed to have to cancel my trip.
Now, I could have wallowed in that loss, and let it affect me and my activities this week. But I am not a victim, and I don’t want to let my emotions dictate my actions.
So I started looking at the positive things this situation has brought me – I am seeing my husband more, since his store is closed and he is at home. I talk to my mom more, just to catch up – as well as my sisters. Yesterday, I got to record a crafting video that will help bring some kids joy and a way to express themselves! I would for sure not have thought to do that if March had gone the way I planned it.
All this to say – I hope you get to see some silver linings in this uncertain time. Any small shimmer can give us the hope to move forward!
And if you can’t right now – that is ok. Nobody can blame you. I just hope this little note brings you a little joy – just know I am thinking of you!
Charlotte is a calligrapher and wedding invitation designer in San Antonio, Texas. Through her studio, CalliRosa, Charlotte provides calligraphy services, from place cards and envelopes to custom invitations and wedding signs. Learn more about CalliRosa and what Charlotte can do for your wedding or next event!