Out of catastrophe can come opportunity. The coronavirus health crisis has taught me that, like the phoenix rising from its ashes. The Italian Renaissance followed the bubonic plague. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote, was passed one year after the deadly Spanish flu pandemic. Peter Parker got bitten by a radioactive spider, but the bite transformed him into Spider-Man (and made Marvel and Disney a bazillion dollars).

These historical examples demonstrate that even the current plague, terrible as it is, can have an upside and be responsible for something worthwhile, even wonderful. You see, because the virus upended all of our lives, stranding us in our homes with too much time on our hands and too few activities to keep us sane, three of my Florida-based grandchildren became my pen pals – Haven (11), Parker (11) and Serena (4).

Now we write to each other all the time. Serena, the youngest, is the model of brevity. Her first letter to me consisted of one handwritten line: “I love you New Grandpa and Linda” (my wife). Her older sister, Haven, is chatty, and her loquaciousness is reflected in her neatly printed missives (school news, reading lists, lots of questions). Parker, their cousin, writes her letters on the computer and uses lots of CAPITALS and exclamation points!!!

To encourage their letter writing, my wife had a great idea: Send the kids personalized stationery. So we went to the local stationery shop (a dying breed of business, like independent bookstores) and, with the assistance of the helpful store owner, picked out some attractive, girl-appropriate stationery, along with a lovely typeface for printing their names on each sheet.

It’s been said that letter writing is fast becoming a lost art in these droning days of digital communication. Certainly, cursive handwriting has been lost; I understand it’s been phased out of the elementary school curriculum. I might as well have not learned it myself, as my cursive handwriting has degenerated over the years to look like a doctor’s dashed-off prescription note or chicken scratch or Egyptian hieroglyphs, take your pick. So, I, too, am a letter-writing slave to my computer and printer. If I cranked out handwritten correspondence, I would likely get return letters from my girls asking: “New Grandpa, say what?!”

I love writing letters to my granddaughters, and I especially love getting their newsy, funny and soulful letters in return. So I can honestly say this pandemic-inspired activity is a labor of love, one I never would have expected, but one that I now cherish. I save all the girls’ letters in a folder and reread them from time to time. It’s kind of like having them here with me, even though we’re separated by a thousand miles and our real time together is measured in too-brief hours and days.

Best of all, we’re not just ordinary pen pals. Haven wrote on one envelope: “Official Pen Pals.” So now I’m officially my grandkids’ VERY special correspondent!!!

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