It's “Notewriting Day” at

The first Friday of each month this year will focus on reviving the art of personal notewriting. I consider notewriting to be one of the most powerful connection tools available. 

Personal letters and notes usually have a simple purpose such as conveying thanks, news, sympathy, or congratulations, but not always. I recently read a moving and compelling article on the Edutopia website, a resource site for educators. Written by former teacher Elena Aguilar, it expanded my thinking about the purpose a letter can serve.

Teachable moments

Ms. Aguilar was working with a class of high-school-age emerging writers for whom English was their second language and whose writing was years below grade level. One Asian student recounted the heart-breaking story of her father’s brutal treatment years earlier in a Khmer Rouge prison camp in Cambodia. The psychological damage had turned this father into a street-wandering eccentric, yelling to invisible people and intermittently sobbing uncontrollably. The teacher felt her student’s sense of loss at not being able to talk to her father in a meaningful way. Aguilar suggested she write a letter to her father, even if he wouldn’t read it. “You can decide later whether you want to actually give it to him or not.”

Writing to her father seemed to be so therapeutic for this one student that Aguilar wondered if other students might have words and emotions pent up inside they didn’t feel comfortable expressing face-to-face. When she proposed the idea of writing letters to parents or loved ones as a class project, the response was overwhelming.

“They wrote,” Aguilar recalls. “They wrote pages and pages to fathers who had abandoned them, to parents who were in jail, to grandparents in rural villages in foreign countries, to relatives who had died, to older brothers trapped in gangs, to parents who worked long hours or drank too much or just couldn’t understand their emerging teenager.”

The exercise became a regular and popular activity in her classroom. It seemed cathartic for the students, even if they never delivered their letters to the intended recipient. When they chose to share their letters in the classroom, Aguilar reports, “they found commonalities across their languages and backgrounds they hadn’t known existed. Communities were forged through their stories.”

The connection power of a Heartspoken letter

“Communities were forged through their stories.” That sentence touched me deeply as I envisioned this healing connection.

Is there someone to whom you should write a Heartspoken letter? It may be a letter you never mail because that person has died, is absent, or in some way unavailable. Or maybe you will mail it and create a connection you thought was lost forever. Reaching out to a loved one with a handwritten letter might be the best gift you can give yourself this year, even if you never mail it.

Epilogue: Ms. Aguilar heard from her Asian student a few years later when the student was a junior in college. Since that first time in Aguilar’s class, she had written over 500 letters to her father, even though he was still hanging around on street corners, crying and yelling at ghosts of the Khmer Rouge. Inspired by the pain of her childhood and the perspective she gained from writing letters, this student decided to major in South East Asian studies and psychology. “I want to help kids, kids who are like me.”

Have you ever written a letter you never mailed? Tell us about it in the comments area below, or join the conversation on Elizabeth's Facebook Page.

Photo credit: “Divorce Hurts” by “Pudding” via
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