Five hundred little connections

I just hit a milestone, friends: as of Monday, I’ve sent 500 cards through Postcrossing.

Remember when we talked about how much I love mail? And I shared ways to get involved and the power of the written word? Well, I put my money where my big fat trap is. I love mail and believe in its powers of connection enough that I have now sent 500 postcards to complete strangers. And I’ve loved every minute of it.

If you’re unfamiliar with Postcrossing, it’s an international postcard exchange program which asks users to send a postcard to a participant somewhere in the world. After scribbling a tracking code on your card, the recipient will use that code to register your mail — and you’ll then get a card back from someone else. It’s not a pen-pal program, and the choice to continue corresponding with the person you’ve swapped with is entirely up to you. In my experience, it’s a “one and done” kind of thing.

Over the two-plus years I’ve participated, I’ve received 481 cards from places as diverse as Taiwan, Lithuania, Switzerland, Slovenia, Malaysia and Macau. More than 100 have come from American buddies; dozens of others have arrived from countries I couldn’t place on a map. The cards themselves have featured everything from international recipes to native costume to beaches and mountain peaks — and everything in between. Some have even had poems.

Each card is a surprise — and a tiny sample of the person sending it. I’ve “met” journalists, nurses, architects. Writers and teachers and restaurant workers. Senders are young and old, male and female, gay and straight. They live in cities and farmhouses and apartment complexes. They’re single and married, parents and grandparents. These 480-plus senders fit into every demographic you can think of . . . and no one is exactly like anyone else.

But everyone is a little like someone else.

Here’s what I’ve learned from becoming a frizzy-haired one-woman American ambassador via postcards: people are people. Regardless of your native language, skin color or profession, we are all human. We love our families. Enjoy traveling. Read and write and cook and bake. We work and play, spend time with our pets, look forward to all that’s to come.

When someone sends me a postcard, they share a piece of their life with me — even if only for a moment. The glimpse at life in a far-off land is what makes the Postcrossing experience so appealing. And for someone who loves to travel? Well, “going” to Finland, Italy and Brazil via a piece of paper is a pretty delightful experience.

But I love the sharing aspect, too. Choosing just the right card for someone, telling them about my day or my life or my country, maybe offering a secret or two . . . this is the currency of human connection. When I take pen to paper, I’m offering a bit of myself on these cards — and it’s never rejected.

Postcrossing is completely awesome.

Half the world’s problems might dissolve if we could all send each other some handwritten encouragement.

Lending a (written) hand: Holiday Mail for Heroes

Every Thanksgiving morning, my sister and I get up early to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and honor a new but very fun tradition: addressing our holiday cards. As the bustle of Christmas really ramps up and we found ourselves long on things to do and short on energy and time in which to do them, it’s easy to let simple craft projects — like card-making — fall by the wayside.

I’m a strong believer in the power of mail and connecting through the written word. I’m an active member of Postcrossing, an international postcard sharing site, and trade handwritten notes with friends and fellow bloggers as often as possible. In our increasingly high-tech and high-powered world, the art of letter-writing — any writing, really — appears to be less relevant. Teens talk and write academic papers in LOL- and text-speak. Facebook groups annouce engagements, babies, travel plans. We communicate through Twitter and texting. We don’t even pick up the phone.

And look, I get it — I’m pretty plugged in myself. It’ll be a cold, dark day before you pry my smartphone from my limp fingers or get me to shut down my social media or this blog itself. But I don’t think those channels should replace things like real, honest-to-goodness mail. In 100 years, will anyone be looking through family heirlooms to read old love tweets between their great-grandparents?

Well, I mean — maybe. Who knows. Look how much our technology has changed in just a decade. In two decades. It’s unrecognizable.

But you’re following me on this, right?

Last year while snacking on breakfast foods and waving to Santa on his sleigh ride through New York City, I did something simple: while writing out my usual batch of cards to friends and family, I added a few cards for Holiday Mail for Heroes. I used my regular Christmas cards, most of which I buy in boxed sets for less than $10. I added a personal note thanking a service member for their sacrifice and shared news about my corner of the world, trying to spread holiday wishes and cheer.

It’s cheap. It’s fast. It’s very easy. And it makes a difference.

Operated by the Red Cross, the Holiday Mail for Heroes program asks volunteers to send holiday cards to be collected and distributed to military service members in December. Now through Dec. 9, send your cards — any holiday card you like — to help make someone’s season brighter.

“The process is very simple and takes no time at all,” the Red Cross writes. “All you need is a pen and piece of paper to share your appreciation for the sacrifices members of the U.S. Armed Forces make to protect our freedoms. … Sending a ‘touch of home’ to American men and women who serve our country is the perfect way to express your appreciation and support during the holiday season.”

Holiday cards can be sent to:

Holiday Mail For Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

For more information and card guidelines, visit the Holiday Mail for Heroes website — and check out the video below. See if it doesn’t warm your heart.

Gather the family and make card-sending a new holiday tradition. You won’t be sorry you did.