I guest posted Tuesday on the 20 Something Bloggers official blog — TwentyTwenty – and had to share it with you all because I adore this girl and her project. When I read her first Love Letters post, I ran downstairs to tell my roommates I’d seriously met the next Mother Teresa.
When Hannah Brencher answers her phone, the first thing you notice is the way she spins the conversation so it’s not about her—it’s about you.
“How are you?” she says. “How is your summer?”
And she wants to know. She’s not asking because that’s what people do. The genuine question threads through her voice like syrup dripping all over fresh-griddled pancakes.
That’s Hannah’s MO. She believes that helping others as much as we can helps us lead a fulfilled life.
Last year, Hannah volunteered for the United Nations and commuted on the 4-train every morning from her residence in the Bronx to the U.N. headquarters in Manhattan.
It was on one such train ride that she picked up her pen and never set it back down.
She wrote a letter to a woman with a red hat on and didn’t know what to do with it. She said she left it on the seat and felt like she’d left a piece of herself on the train.
“I started on the train because I needed something to do so I didn’t break down crying,” she said.
That first love letter sparked 30 or 40 more until they became, she said, her cure for loneliness.
“I know how it feels to be lonely, and people seem so lonely in New York City,” she said.
She hoped the love letters would work their way into the hands of someone who desperately needed them.
She left each one somewhere different but intentional—on the shelves at the New York Public Library, behind saltshakers at restaurants, on sinks in Starbucks bathrooms. She didn’t want anyone to accidentally throw the letters out.
After all, they were just scribbled on notebook paper.
And she didn’t sign them.
Then, she did what she does best. She wrote a blog post about it, opening up the love letter requests to her readers.
“At most, I thought I’d get 20 requests from readers,” she told me.
Within a week, she had 200 requests. She called her mom, completely baffled, asking her what to do.
“I just need to start writing them,” she decided. And so she did.
A week later, she got the opportunity of a lifetime: meeting her favorite author, Courtney Martin, for coffee in New York City. She emailed Martin on a whim and asked for 5 minutes of her time. What she got was so much more.
Martin gushed about Hannah’s blog. She’d shared a link to the love letters post on her own blog—Feministing—and that’s why the requests took off.
Hannah opened up for requests in October 2010. By Christmas, she’d written 250 love letters. Some of them were just from people who thought the project was cool; others wrote her heart-wrenching emails about the lives they were living, asking her for a letter.
“The last person I would think to reach out if I’m going through something tough is a stranger,” she said. “If they’re not getting a love letter [from someone else], I’m gonna get it done for them.”
And now she’s doing what she always wanted.
“I always said when I was a little girl, the world needs more love letters,” Hannah told me.
It seemed too simple.
“If you asked me a year ago if I was just gonna write love letters and that would be enough, I’d be like, ‘What are you talking about?’ she said. “God threw me a left hook.”
And so she’s bringing back the handwritten note—love letter style—because she thinks everyone deserves a love letter. Since then, she’s written 368 letters covering residents of 5 continents, 43 states.
“We don’t need to be best friends. You don’t need to do anything for me. I just want to help you in whatever way I can,” she said.
It’s as simple as that.
By the way, every month I send out a short + sweet newsletter brimming with cool finds related to the monthly theme. It'd be stellar if you subscribed. If it's not worthy, it doesn't go in the newsletter. That. Simple.