Dearest Ashley,

I believe in the power of a good letter. To start with, it’s just good form. You’re from the South: you know better than almost anyone the importance of a thank you card. But beyond that, there’s few things that can trump the permanence of paper, a self-adhesive stamp, and an address: the physical manifestations of someone’s love.

Being far away from home is hard. I miss it in new and inventive ways every year: I miss parking lots and breakfast tacos and thunderstorms and leaving the windows open when the weather is nice and not having to worry about murderers. I miss it on Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings, those times when you don’t want to be alone. And, I imagine that, if there’s a time that I would miss it the most, it would be when my husband is deployed.

I like to fix things. I’m great in a crisis. I like when I can take a problem and break it down into manageable, bite-sized pieces, written down a color-coordinated To Do list, preferably on custom stationery. But I can’t make Charles come home faster. I can’t make you miss him less. If we’re being realistic, I can’t even be there for you every single time you’re going to need someone; I work a lot and sometimes I’ll be out of town or probably already asleep or maybe feeling under the weather. I can’t be your entire support system. But I don’t need to be. You have a wide and connected web of people who love you enough to sit down and write you a letter, then send it to a stranger who lives in DC.

Letters are magic things. I always think that they’re for the other person, something that they can enjoy at the end of a long day, but I’ve found that writing someone a letter–knowing that I can, for just forty-nine cents via the United States Postal Service, mail someone a warm feeling–makes me feel less alone. So I got you some stationery and stamps for writing Charles, so that he knows he’s loved and not alone.

A letter is a simple but powerful thing. It reminds you that you’re not so alone. That you’re loved. That you’re remembered and connected. That you’re important. That you’re worth the effort and the time and the materials it takes to sit down, to compose a few lines, to track down an address–not an email, not a phone number, not a Facebook message–but an actual, physical address.

I wanted my Valentine’s letter to be about love. I thought about writing letters to, in no particular order, the things I love best: otters, my mother, the boathouse, sleeping, books, the National Portrait Gallery, BWI Airport, Panda Express. But then I went to Charles’ going away party.

I always forget how good of a human he is. Granted, I’ve only met him twice, but I know you and I know how good of a human you are, so it only makes sense that the two of you landed up together. Together, the pair of you are the kindest people I know and you inspire people around you to be kind and do good and take care of one another.

I don’t really know what the next year has in store for you. I imagine there will be some ups and some downs, some highs and some lows. So I collected some letters for you so that, on the days you feel low, you can have something that reminds you that you are loved and, hopefully, can help you feel a little less alone.

There’s all sorts of love letters. There’s love letters you write to pizza and there’s love letters you write to your husband and there’s love letters you write to friends who are going through new and scary and challenging experiences. I hope you love your love letters. I hope you know how much we all love you.



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