By Emery Jansen
The past year has been horrific in countless ways; tragedies hit all communities one after the other, and it has been challenging to keep ourselves afloat. In the beginning, there was an aura of surrealism that encapsulated everyone. It was an enjoyable kind of unprecedented fun even. No one we knew had COVID in those first few weeks when everyone learned how to make double- and triple-layered masks; it was just an extended spring break and a hefty dose of dysregulation. Signs reading, “We will get through this together,” and “This too shall pass,” littered our cities and social media feeds. Unfortunately though, those days of pandemic glory wore off quickly; this still has not passed. The past year has been one of distance and each-man-for-himself sentiments; more than 12 months in and some self-entitled citizens still refuse to consider someone, anyone, other than themselves.
Despite these collective grievances and our own individual sufferings, not everything was negative. In March of 2020, I found myself grappling with the loss of my life as I knew it, as all of us did. Everything was unknown, and I spiraled as the uncertainties around me swept me up with them. As a member of the generation deemed conceited and overly-absorbed in the online world, I sat in a resounding inability to feel, to connect, to do anything other than simply survive. I’m sure many of my peers can attest to this: even those who weren’t textbook-compliant with the various COVID mandates and were still socializing felt the shift. By chance, I came upon an opportunity to keep myself afloat and, as I found out later, cultivate intimate relationships with those who compose my world.
My letter-writing empire began on March 29, 2020, when a friend of mine got an envelope in the mail, covered in haphazard, pen-drawn hearts. It was sent by one of their friends wanting to bring a smile to the faces around her. I contemplated this occurrence for a while, realizing just how grateful I would be and important I would feel if someone did the same for me, even with simple communication. So, I determinedly drafted a list of 13 people to write to, pen on paper, a stamp in the upper-righthand corner, the whole lost art of letter writing. I wrote my favorite memories I shared with each person, lamented about what I would miss the most about them in our time apart during lockdown (unfortunately, I am still missing these traits of the people I love). I asked them questions about what we would typically be discussing in-person. Twelve out of those original 13 letters arrived at their destinations, the vast majority bound for friends and teammates, though two meandered their way to Wisconsin with my cousins’ names on them. The last was vacuumed into the space-time continuum and still hasn’t been delivered.
Now, almost exactly one year since I wrote my first letters, I have sent and received over 200 letters, with a group of people who have morphed only slightly since 12 months ago. I wrote letters to my best friend daily, passed a travel-destination list back and forth with other friends, traded music suggestions, laughed at terribly embarrassing anecdotes, stared in wonderment at my friends’ calligraphy talent, became acquainted with my aunt as the human she is, reconnected with a middle school friend to support her through intense tragedy, tantalizingly listed the most arbitrary tidbits about myself, learned more about friends I’ve made recently, and, most regrettably, stamped and sent an unfortunately colorful letter to my crush at the time. I wish I were kidding on the last one. However, all the others sent me running to the mailbox almost daily in hopes that I would find a response waiting for me. This may sound cheesy, a 16-year-old writing letters to stay connected when there are virtual ways to communicate instantly, but I have found this lost art to be the epitome of what I need right now: an unmatched opportunity to express myself creatively, encouragement to stay patient, and finally, an ability to ground myself in the present and in found moments to forget the world’s realities of the past year.
About the author
Emery Jansen is a junior at Fairview High School and a member of our Student Advisory Board. She is passionate about all things creative–including embroidery, photography, drawing, writing, and running her own business. Emery is also a vehement advocate for social justice and mental health awareness, valuing the connections she holds with those around her more than everything else in her life.