A couple of days ago, my mother-in-law messaged asking for some gift ideas for her best friend’s landmark birthday.
“Maybe you could write her a note”, I blurted without thinking.
“A note?”, she asked thoughtfully.
“Yes. A note can be re-read several times”, I said as my mind raced towards some warm moments the week before when those written words of thought had brought a smile to my face.
A strong pull tugged at my heart even as I was finishing the conversation. I sat on my desk, picked up a pen and wrote. It was the first note I was writing after a very long time. I sat, I thought, I put my fingers to work and words appeared like little bubbles and danced on paper. It was blissful. It was exhilarating. It was perfect. “I am going to do more of this”, I whispered to myself when I finished writing the note to my niece and stuck it along with a gift.
It was not like this before. Hand written notes were always a part of any gift we gave. We slipped in thoughtful jottings about the person, we came up with witty one-liners, we reminiscenced about good times — most of all, when we held the pen between the fingers, we spent those moments thinking about the person.
Somewhere in my adult life, I stopped holding those writing instruments. I sent out digital greeting cards accompanied by typed out notes that someone wrote. Then for the past few years, my social media feed prompted me with words that the machines picked out. I no longer spent time with the words I wanted to share with the people I care about. Worse still, I forgot that I once used to follow a tradition — until last month.
The person who held out a neat little bag had doubt written on her face, “I hope you haven’t read this before”, she said pointing to the book that was sticking out.
“No”, I assured her.
When I opened the first page of that book later that day, a wave of emotions washed over me because tucked neatly between the folds of the pages was a handwritten note. I smiled as I read the words and a little spot in my heart softened. It was beautiful. It was simple. It was thoughtful. I tucked the note back in and I turned the pages over to read. This time, I didn’t look for a bookmark nor did I dog ear the page.
This thread of practice
I marked it with this note. I stopped to read the little note again and tucked it back in. It was exhilarating to go back to that note after every few pages because it led me to meet my old self. As I read the last pages of the book, I read the note again before placing it back in the book and I told myself just this — it is a sweet gesture. But, at that moment, I hadn’t planned on picking up this thread of practice.
But my mother-in-law’s message had changed a few things. As soon as I finished writing to my niece, I scribbled another note for a friend who was celebrating her wedding anniversary followed by another thank-you note. My thoughts, words and little sheets of papers made their appearances in my close circle of friends and family.
Yesterday, my mother-in-law called me enthusiastically. “That was a splendid idea”, she was ecstatic, “my friend is thrilled to see my note”, I could sense her smiling, “but the best part is I had forgotten how much I enjoy writing these kinds of messages”. She sighed. I sighed with her because I understood her.
Long after the phone call, I was still reeling in with all the emotions that accompany the written word. Sometimes, all it takes is a small word to make the whole world move.
I don’t know if I will carry on this little practice, but deep down, I want to pour my heart out holding those writing instruments and scribble in sheets of paper and leave them around for those I care. But, above all, I owe it to the one person who illuminated the path. And to her I want to say, “I am paying it forward — wish me well”.
Sudha Subramanian is an author and writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @sudhasubraman