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By Abe Villarreal

Every time I open the mailbox, I get a small sense of despair. From pizza coupons to car dealership flyers addressed to "current resident," or campaign brochures and credit card applications, these days it seems like each visit to the mailbox is a scene from the movie Groundhog Day.

I'm one of those people that reach into the dark square-shaped hole, take out each piece one at a time, lean over and take a closer look into the box to see if I missed anything, and then stand outside going through each item.

On most days, all the mail ends up in the bin. And then there are those days that you stand by the mailbox for a few extra minutes because you spot something that might not be worth throwing away. You turn over the envelop and crudely tear it open with your thumb. Inside you find a letter. A letter from a real person.

It's a letter with actual ink and words that seem honest and authentic. There are no sales pitches or political messages. You stand there and smile because someone took the time to write you something, put it an envelope, address the envelope, stick a stamp on it, seal and delivered it.

These days, doing all those things seems like too much work, but to the recipient it is rather special. Lately, I have been surprised by post cards and letters from readers and far away friends who took their time to send a note by snail mail. They could have composed an email or quickly typed a text. They didn't. They wrote letters, and for some reason, these thoughtful communications have meant something extra to me.

Maybe it's the pandemic that has got me a little emotional. We are apart more than we would like to be and opening an envelope to find a message of encouragement or a note of appreciation is like receiving a gift on Christmas morning. Imagine if we all started sending more snail mail to each other. Just jotting down a simple "hello" or "I miss you" can be a welcome surprise to a mailbox opener in a different zip code.

You can write about life working from home, the new pet you adopted, or the travel plans you hope to be reality next summer. You can get real gossipy and talk about the burglary down the street or the letters to the editor you read in the newspaper and how much they bug you because they are saying the opposite of everything you're thinking.

It doesn't matter what you say on paper. What matters is that you are taking the time to write to someone and to share thoughts and emotions. In some ways, it's a deep and meaningful form of connecting with loved ones. It's also safe and really affordable, especially if you still have that book of Forever stamps you have hidden away in the junk drawer.

Maybe we can start a campaign to cheer up mailbox openers across the country. For every five Subway sandwich coupon flyers you get, it would be nice to see that the sixth piece of mail was a message from an old friend, or even a new one that took the time to write and tell you how much you mean to them.

Before you know it, people will be standing outside by their mailboxes longer than usual because the next letter they receive will make them smile.

Abe Villarreal writes about the traditions, people, and culture of America. He can be reached at abevillarreal@hotmail.com.

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