Friday, 5 August 2016

A Year in Letters


I love the written word. Always have, always will. But reading or typing online will never compare for me to writing by hand or receiving physical letters. Hearing my phone vibrate to let me know I've received an email will never live up to the same feeling of joy I feel when I hear a letter drop through the postbox that's a personal, hand-written letter and not just another piece of junk mail. 

Letters take so much more time and effort than picking up your phone and sending a text. When reading them you can see where the person has made mistakes or gotten excited because their handwriting gets a little messier. Some of them are things which I think should be treasured forever. This and their rarity nowadays is what makes them so very special in my eyes. 

So when one of my closest friends, Josie, decided to spend this year on a gap year teaching at a school in Senegal, West Africa, and asked people to write to her, I knew immediately that I'd love to. Yes, she did often have wifi when she was out there so could be reached by text, but I thought that her receiving letters with my messy and recognisable-to-her handwriting would be a way of making her smile on the tougher days and a way of giving her a little piece of home. I also knew how happy it would make me to receive letters from her when she was so far away.

Today she's coming home after a whole year away. And, although she's being whisked off straight to Cornwall for a week, meaning I won't see her right away, I'm counting down the days until my friends and I get to have a reunion with her. 

It's been such a pivotal year for the both of us - hers being away for so long in a completely different culture, and mine starting university and moving away from home for the first time. And because we kept up our letter-writing (not without gaps due to the at times sporadic Senegalese postal service), I now have a small collection of letters from Josie that are spaced throughout this year. It's funny but lovely reading them back, seeing how both our experiences changed through Josie's wonderful words. It feels as though this year has gone so fast, but reading Josie's thoughts on everything through the letters has reminded me just how much has happened in both of our lives in the past twelve months. 

Hearing about her wildly different life in this way has been such a pleasure for me. There are experiences Josie described when she was reflecting on what had happened since she last wrote to me that I just don't think she would have bothered to write over text, and vice versa. Reading back the letters, I'm so incredibly proud of my friend for giving up this year for such a worthy cause - she's truly amazing. And now I have a way to remind her of that in all the years to come when she will no doubt be incredibly modest about the whole thing. 

Writing to her was so cathartic for me as it would allow me to stop and really reflect on everything that was going on in my life. As I'm sure you can imagine, a year of such change has brought with it a lot of ups and downs for me and so being able to write about them helped me to get them out and let them go. And, in turn, reading one of my best friend's handwriting giving me some of the best advice I've ever been given was honestly such a comfort whenever I was anxious or uncertain about things. 

These letters contain nearly everything I have felt and the ways in which I have changed over this year as well as so many of Josie's ups and downs, (I can't say on her behalf how much of her life they contain). I don't think many people are lucky enough to say that they have a collection like this with one of their closest friends in a world where so much of our lives are online. I will really treasure them forever. 

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