Have you ever seen that movie featuring the boy with ‘no ragrets’ tattooed across his chest? I was him for Halloween once. Regrets must be something everyone thinks about - How can I live with more intention? What mistakes in my life do I not want to make again?
Unlike that boy, I am not remorseless. Unlike that boy, I do have ‘ragrets’. Like that boy, I sometimes get tattoos on a whim.
On second thought, I do not have regrets. I have a regret. I wish I had taken more time for people at a younger age.
As a child, I was very caught up in a fantasy world of making things and reading stories and creating the imagined. As a child, our neighbors thought there were only three little girls in the Long house. To their surprise, a redheaded one lived there too. Recently, I’ve found myself falling back into the same patterns, often living in a fantasy world, often forgetting about the people who live in my real one.
This afternoon, I found myself in a slump. In my definition, a slump is one of those moments where you don’t feel particularly fantastic about who you are or what you are doing.
I decided the best way to get out of that slump was to stop thinking about myself so much. The best way to not think about yourself is to think about other people. I sat down at my desk and proceeded to catch up on the stack of letters I was behind on. I was behind on letters because I had vowed to write one every day for the entire year. Here is the story on that.
Words on paper are really special to me. I think that is true for many people. I don’t hold on to much, but I’ve saved every letter anyone has ever written me. If letters are that special to me, they must be special to other people. This summer, I was in the hospital for quite a while. When I went home, I wrote letters to the people who still lived there. Those little letters brightened their spirits far more than I could have imagined. I thought to myself, “Self, if letters mean this much to you, if letters mean this much to other people, you should write more of them.” At that moment, I vowed to write a letter a day for the entire year.
I think this exercise has brought me more joy that it has anyone else. Some people write me back. Some do not. But that isn’t the point. The satisfaction doesn’t come from response, but rather from knowing that I have given someone a small glimpse of how wonderful I think they are.
That day at my desk, I ended up writing eleven letters. With each note to someone else, I forgot the things that troubled me about myself. With each note to someone else, my spirit grew a little brighter. With each note to someone else, I remembered the intention I live my life with.
The great thing about writing letters is that it connects you to the people in your life, no matter how far away you might be from them.
It is easy to get caught up in our work, whatever that may be. But the thing about work is there is always more of it to do. Work is eternal. People are not (on earth, at least). My only life regret is that I haven’t taken enough time for relationships.
Sometimes, my letters are stories of things that people might not remember about themselves.
Sometimes, they are fairytales about squirrel babies.
Sometimes, they are a list of tattoo ideas.
Sometimes, they are jokes or recipes.
Sometimes, they are long love notes of adoration.
All times, my letters are a celebration of friendship.
Kindness doesn’t run out, and words of encouragement don’t come in limited supply. If you see something in someone, tell them. Letters are a wonderful medium in which to do so.
Words are powerful. Words are free. I challenge you to give more of them.
The best letter writer I know is my pops. He has written me dozens of letters over the course of my life. His prose is not especially eloquent, but writing letters in not about being an excellent wordsmith. The most important part of writing letters is actually sending them.
Article & Photography by Madeline Long
This letter is the first in a series of how to make time for people in your life. If you would like to contribute, submit your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org