For over a year now I have been writing letters to strangers anonymously and leaving them around London for someone to find in the hope that I will bring some warmth, comfort or encouragement to that person. Why, you may ask?
I’m something of a loner, but I like people. I like to think about how connected we all are, and how in different circumstances the stranger I want to poke for barging past me in the street could just as easily be someone I care about very deeply. Imagine a stranger who is doing something to annoy you suddenly falls down in front of you. They are very ill and need your help. I’ll hedge a bet that you’re one of the many good people in the world and that you go to help that person. You do your best, you call an ambulance, you reassure the person, the ambulance comes and takes them away. You know only their first name. My guess is that you now care about that person. I bet that you will think about that person afterwards and wonder how they are, you will hope they are okay. That’s what I mean.
It is from this place that I write the letters. I take a pen and write without planning what to write. Sometimes I’ll find a quote and write it down with a little related message to go with it or I will just write something from scratch. When I write I picture a person who feels the kinds of things that I feel and with similar needs to my own, and I address them from that place. I make a point of not to correcting or editing the letters even if I have made grammatical or spelling mistakes because I see it as an act of humility and a challenge to my perfectionism. Also it just makes them feel a bit more special, like they come from a more honest place.
A question I often get asked is if I hear back from many of the people who have found the letters, and the answer is no, none. This is because I don’t leave any way for the finder to get in touch with me. Let me tell you, I have a bit of an ego as we all do, and I think leaving the letters without any way of being contacted means that the act has to be truly unconditional and without expectation. I often wonder if anyone actually opens the letters they find, and just hope that they do. There was one occasion when I left a letter on a train and someone picked it up before I got off. The woman looked confused, opened it, and I watched a smile erupt – it was magical. So if that lady opened one surely others must?!
What I have noticed from writing all these letters (I’ve written over 150 now) is that when I read them back I have often written something that I actually needed to hear without realising it. And so these things I do to try to be kind cannot be separated from me even when they are given away. This is how it is with unconditional giving: you always get back so much more than you gave. I hope you enjoy reading some of the letters because they are to you, dear stranger, too.