Pen-pals Gloria Alvarez and Shelley Sachs

Who could have predicted the power of the first letter written by Shelley Sachs from Central Washington in 1968?

A pen-pal letter, written by Shelley in sixth grade, secured a connection, which has lasted fifty years, with Gloria Alvarez who resides in Indian Wells. The first letter written landed in an elementary school in Miami, Florida, and was randomly opened by Gloria when she was ten.

Gloria immigrated to Miami from Cuba when she was five years old. When Gloria opened the first letter it was as if she was entering an undiscovered world. The window into Shelley’s life on a cattle ranch and as a student in a two-room red brick schoolhouse was so intriguing. There was mutual adoration and excitement for each other’s lives from the onset.

This excitement and appreciation for differences continued when Gloria and Shelley, now in their sixties, just met for the third time in fifty years for a desert weekend together. Shelley brought copies of the first letters to reminisce about the creation of this initial spark of synergy. The bond is not reflective of the similarities these two share. They agree that the secret to this pen pal relationship has been an openness to learn about differences and to appreciate being extreme opposites.

Through sharing so many confidences over time, they have learned from each other. Over fifty years of letter writing has covered challenges, such as health problems, job changes, child rearing, and many other trials and tribulations. There is a cathartic experience when two people share such life experiences, considering the other as a sounding board. Over the years this relationship has allowed both Gloria and Shelley to hone their writing skills while leaving themselves vulnerable as they shared their vast differences and life experiences.

With the onset of technology, letters eventually became e-mails, and the continuance of this bond became stronger with the advent of social media. Both ladies realized they were connecting more with e-mails versus simply giving a “thumbs up” or posting pictures and hoping for a “like.” Gloria and Shelley were sharing their soul and continue to do so.

Loneliness is one of the primary conditions of declining health. Communication technology with smartphones and social media often leaves the user empty. We have hundreds of social media friends, yet the outcome is empty in the realm of real social relationships.

A lesson can be learned from Shelley and Gloria, as they bonded in spite of their differences, socially and culturally, by honest and transparent sharing over time, resulting in an authentically deep connection.

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