Postcards: Small Effort, Great Rewards

When my boys were quite small and all my energy was spent on keeping them alive a family friend got cancer.  She lived in another state so I couldn’t visit, I couldn’t make food for her family or clean her house. All I could do was pray.  I believe in the power of prayer but let’s face it, prayer can be wanting. I felt I had to do something to let her know I was rooting for her. I was thinking about her.  I was praying for her.

One morning I grabbed a cup of coffee at my favorite local café when I saw a stack of free postcards, a sort of business card advertising the café. I grabbed a couple.  At home I sat down and jotted a few lines on the postcard for my friend. It didn’t take much to fill it and it didn’t take much time…but it made me feel better. So I put a note on my calendar to send her one every Friday. 

I started noticing free postcards at other locations and of course inexpensive ones everywhere.  I started using them.  Often.  To reach out when I missed a friend.  To say thank you to those who lent a helping hand or sent a treat.  Even when I was only sleeping a few hours a night tending to my children, a postcard was something I could handle.

Sometimes I do write “thinking of you” or “praying for you” but someone like my friend with cancer didn’t want to hear that every week.  Sometimes I would write down a quote I connected with that week or I would share a highlight from the week, our own private Facebook status. It doesn’t take much to connect, sometimes just making an effort.

I have continued this practice.  It is a kind of message in a bottle in reverse.  I send my message out to someone who I think might need it.  I don’t expect anything in return. 

I have used this tactic for when I am feeling insecure or sad about a relationship with a bad friend.  You know those moments, when you dwell on how shitty that person is, instead of concentrating on these great relationships you have?  I stop myself when these obsessive thoughts come on and a grab two postcards.  For every shitty friend out there, there are at least two good ones.  So I grab a postcard, write down one of the things I love about them or a funny memory and send it on its way. I spend the energy strengthening a friendship instead of fixating on the dysfunctional one.

This ritual has retrained my thinking.  It’s helped me learn not to let these thoughts of helplessness consume me.  I send them out.  Friends have followed suit and send me random postcards as thank yous, as hellos, sharing their travels, until my fridge is covered and I am reminded of the goodness of life.

The friend with cancer fought for over a year and a half but cancer won.  When she was having a good day she’d pop me an email thanking me for the postcards.  Laughing at a memory or sharing her thoughts on a quote.  We were able to reconnect more than we would have had I not sent the postcards.  When she died, she knew that I loved her and that I appreciated her.  She had a stack of over 50 postcards telling her a piece of our story.


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