During a month when two close friends left the city we’ve shared and two more loved ones announced their plans to move – one to the coast, one across the ocean – I’ve been thinking a lot about keeping in touch, about staying connected to the people I love, wherever they are.
It can be a wonderful thing to have friends and family spread across the globe, as so many of us do; to see loved ones being where they need or want to be, for now or maybe for always, fulfilling dreams or just trying new things, coming home from travels with new friendships and lasting bonds.
But there can be loss and disconnection in the distances between us too – not being able to pop round for a cuppa or offer a hug. Even when the distances aren’t great, it can be hard to keep in touch in ways that feel meaningful and significant, to keep connections going.
There are so many ways to stay in touch now, at any distance. A quick text or social media update, a Skype chat or email can be invaluable.
But sometimes something more tangible is needed, something to hold, perhaps even to plant and watch grow, or just to pop on a shelf to glance at. Something slower. This is where my love of sending (and receiving!) things in the post comes in.
My friend Rachel and I used to live just a few streets apart and before that we shared classrooms and corridors at school. I moved away to London in my early 20s while she stayed closer to our geographical roots.
We’re not far apart, as the crow flies, but not ‘popping round’ distance either, especially factoring in childcare logistics. So we began a practice of sending one another things in the post. Just little things, nothing big or expensive.
Recently, an envelope a little fatter than a bill, but still small, dropped through my door. I recognised Rachel’s handwriting and smiled. Sitting at my kitchen table I opened the envelope to find a card and herbal tea bags tucked inside.
I can’t remember now what the note said but I remember feeling cared for as I made myself a cup of tea and settled down to work.
I sent Rachel a tiny brooch I found in the shape of a bird once, at a time when I thought she might need a talisman of freedom. And a few weeks ago I sent nasturtium seeds I had harvested last year from my crowded balcony garden. She sent me a postcard from the seaside.
We text and call too, and follow each other’s Instagram accounts, and of course we visit whenever we can. But there’s something special, and necessary, in this practice of sending things in the old-fashioned post, just now and then, that’s right for us.
The joy of having something to open, to discover, never goes away for me. Similarly, the comfort of glancing at a postcard sat on my shelf or my new stash of herbal tea makes our friendship feel present in my own home, in spite of the distance.
A card is often enough as a gesture to make someone feel cared for and thought of. I’m one of those people who like to keep a collection of cards at the ready. Cards I’ve made, cards I’ve picked up at craft fairs or bought in my (gorgeous) local East London gift shop. My toddler is in on the act now too – we make cards together covered in shiny fish stickers, washi tape and scribbles.
Cards for birthdays, new homes and congratulations are great, but my favourites are cards that could be for any, or no, occasion – those are the ones I’m really after for my stash!
Because, while I’m all for celebrating at any excuse, sometimes I just want to send a card to say ‘hello’ or ‘hope you’re okay’ or (perhaps with a little bar of chocolate inside, which is always very welcome) ‘I’m thinking of you’.
Of course, there’s no ‘right’ way to keep in touch. We have to find the best way for each relationship at each time. Thinking about what kind of gestures might keep a relationship flourishing, and the people within it feeling connected, might lead to some unique ideas.
We can try things out and maybe start some new practices of keeping in touch that are personal to each of us. We can share the joy of receiving a card ‘just because’ or a tiny package that’s a mysterious surprise.
So maybe it’s a good time to dig out your address book and your stamps and let someone know you’re thinking of them. Whether you deepen a bond with an already close friend, or reconnect with someone after some time, your life will certainly be richer for it.
5 lovely little things to send to your friends
A handmade card
This doesn’t have to be perfectly illustrated or include a long message – just have fun and let someone know you’re thinking of them.
I love the sense of hope and the forward-looking nature of giving seeds. They’re not just for avid gardeners either. Herbs or small, indoor flowers are ideal for those restricted to a few pots on the windowsill.
I often pressed flowers between heavy books when I was Iittle and recently saw a friend’s child continuing this age-old tradition with a simple flower-press she’d been given. It’s such a thoughtful (and inexpensive) way to send flowers.
Mini care package
For me, a care package should be about comfort, things to cuddle up with and enjoy – a favourite tea, maybe even a good novel, and certainly a treat to eat.
Real, actual printed photos! I take so many pictures these days, it’s lovely to share them as prints sometimes, as reminders of happy moments spent together.
Photos by Joseph Pearson, Ella Jardim, Manuel Cosentino, Joshua Lanzarini, Cary Bates, Brigitte Tohm and Sarandy Westfall on Unsplash.