Letter: Keeping up with letters from Columbus

From: Kaitlynn Milvert


As I wriggled into my spaghetti-stained sweatpants and fortified myself for an evening of drafting papers, I booted up my computer and checked for letters from home.

These weren’t personal letters; they weren’t even addressed to me. They were distant and digital and signed with names I often didn’t recognize. But they were voices from Columbus, snapshots of my hometown — letters to the editor.

In my early days away at college, I latched on to these letters as a sort of hometown epistolary. I never responded, never wrote back, but it was a way of keeping in touch with the place I had lived for the past 18 years — my own odd, one-sided, pen pal exchange.

Back in September, for instance, the backyard-chicken debate let me map for my new, city-raised friends Columbus’ unique location between rural tradition and urban advancement.

Soon after, all the way from Bloomington, I heard figurative shots fired over gun regulations, and I waited for the silence, hoping that nobody back home was hurt.

Then, while refugees stood, waiting, far from home, I reflected on my own distance from home — a mere hour’s drive for me, but countries, languages, cultures away for them.

With the election on the horizon, I’ve heard undertones of walls and borders crescendo beneath cries for acceptance. I’ve heard “home” used interchangeably with “nationalism” and “exclusion.” I’ve seen the welcome mat torn to tatters on our country’s doorstep.

Recently, I sat (not in the bathroom — I don’t actually read the paper there) and read as my fellow community members, trying to feel at home in their own bodies, struggled to find security and acceptance in their own hometown.

With all of these impersonal personal stories echoing in my head, I paced the ninth-floor stacks of the library, my home away from home. Generations of authors towered over diminutive freshman me, their books written in languages I haven’t learned to read, telling their stories from distant homes that I will never know.

Standing within walls of words, I realized that all of these opinions — whether social, political, moral or broadly humanistic — come down to a question of authority. They hinge on judgment, on selecting one story from the thousands of others that fill the shelves, the newspapers, the coffee shops, the streets.

“Authority” shares a root, a birthplace, with “author,” one who writes, who tells a story. But in writing this letter, I’ve realized I don’t want to claim any authority. I just want to write back. I want to keep up this correspondence. Above all, I want to consider the stories that aren’t being told. I want to address those silent pen pals who might never write back.

Columbus residents should keep writing letters because it’s a pleasure hearing from them. Everyone should listen for stories they might not be hearing. Find the mustiest, dustiest book crammed on the library shelf. Have a serendipitous chat with a stranger. Get a pen pal. Who knows? A new favorite author might be found.