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The Joy of Receiving a Handwritten Letter by Pauline Ronan

I still have the first letter that my mother sent to me in 2002 when I moved to Liverpool. I had just arrived in the city on a Saturday from South Armagh; my sister and her husband had dropped me off at my new student digs near Allerton Road after driving from the boat at Holyhead. They didn’t want to leave me as the house did not have any light bulbs, but after putting a bit of light on the subject by getting bulbs in the shop, they reluctantly left me and then there was me, on my own in a new city, feeling a little less brave about my teacher training at Hope University that was starting on the Monday morning. The house was empty as my new housemates, who I didn’t know, were at a festival and would be returning in a few days. I got settled and unpacked and had my first night’s sleep in Liverpool.

When I awoke the following morning there was a letter on the mat from my mother!! What a hero and by God did I need that letter to keep me going! She had timed it perfectly that I would receive the letter on the first day that I had fully on my own without family in this new city. Almost 20 years on in this joyous city, after planning to only stay a year, I married a lovely Liverpool Irish man and we have, what I call a ‘skirish’ son Shea, a beautiful mix of Scouse and Irish. We happily continue the tradition of letter writing and letters continue to drop on the mat from my kind and thoughtful mother.

Letters have been playing a crucial part in history for thousands of years.

The first ever handwritten letter was thought to have been sent by the Persian Queen Atossa in around 500 BC, according to the ancient historian Hellanicus. Their popularity as a way of sending messages grew as more people became literate.

Although electronic forms of communication have now largely taken over from the handwritten letter, it still holds a place close to our hearts. Research carried out recently found that sixty-four per cent of people would not sit down and hand write a single letter over the course of a year. But despite this, sixty-nine per cent said receiving something handwritten through the post would mean more to them than a text, tweet or Facebook message.

Maybe during this time of lockdown, we can start to resurrect the tradition of letter writing. I recently wrote to my neighbour back in South Armagh who is over 80 and self-isolating. Although he has a very rich life and uses the phone to communicate he was so touched to receive a letter. He replied with a beautiful letter telling stories and anecdotes from over the years, he also said that he had read my letter a dozen times. I was really shocked by that and thought he was exaggerating but when I spoke to him on the phone, he truly had! The power of a letter can be so moving and can mean far more to a person than you can ever know. I spoke to my Mother this morning about letter writing and she said “sometimes when you get old, you imagine that people don’t think about you anymore, but when you get a letter it makes you feel great and reminds you that you’re not on your own and that someone has thought of you”.

Maybe you could pick up that pen and notepad today, it might not be fancy paper or envelopes, the letter might not even be long, but the fact that you’ve taken the time out of your day to think of someone else speaks volumes!! Let’s keep the tradition alive as you just never know who needs that letter to drop onto their mat!

Pauline is the Head of Religious Education at Notre Dame Catholic College, Liverpool and is in training to be a life coach and Psychotherapist through her business Holistic Self-Care Solutions, which places a huge emphasis on mindfulness and meditation for well-being.


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