When I was teaching English, I arranged for students to have pen pals. I don’t remember the details–whether I required them to participate in the project or promised those who did extra credit. I might have simply offered to send names to an agency to be matched with potential correspondents.
I do remember why I did it. I wanted to show them that writing could be fun. I wanted them to see it as more than essays and research papers, to understand that it could build bridges and form bonds and open new worlds.
I also wanted them to write freely, without fear of judgment, so after getting them started, I withdrew from the project.
Last week I received an e-mail from K.M., one of those students. She told me she and her pen pal have been corresponding for twenty-eight years. He’s coming from Australia this month to meet her.
She said she’s thrilled and ended with, “Thank you!”
I’m thrilled, too. Consider: how many letters, how many words they’ve written; how much they’ve learned; how much they’ve shared; how much has changed since they stamped and mailed those first envelopes. They’ve gone from pen and paper to e-mail. They’ve moved from adolescence to adulthood. Twenty-eight years. My mind boggles just thinking about it.
But I don’t deserve thanks. I spent probably less than an hour on the project. I got things going.
K.M. and her pen pal did the rest. They took an exercise and made it real. The bridge, the bond, the new world–everything I wanted for them, they did.
So thank you, K.M., for writing, and for telling me the rest of the story.
That’s one of the finest gifts I’ve ever received.