When I first wrote an anonymous letter I was up at night having trouble sleeping. I decided I needed to write to someone, anyone, as if I knew them—so that whoever received it knew they were loved. I wanted to express this love and enthusiasm that I had inside me. I think we all crave different kinds of connection: from family, friends, romantic partners and also from strangers. As I wrote the letter I made sure it wasn’t directed to a particular person, but that it still felt personal. It was quite elaborate, but basically said: “You are loved and appreciated.” Not in a flirtatious way, just very kind.

I knew that when I went walking out into the night I would find the right place for it. I walked for about a kilometre through the back streets of Northcote and eventually came across a vintage car that was identical to mine. I said: “This person’s going to get the letter!” I put it on the car so that when the owner woke in the morning they would see it. I didn’t need to know who it was or how it would be received—just that I’d made this connection. When I walked home I was filled with excitement, which obviously didn’t help with my sleeping.

I found myself writing more and more of these letters. I loved the feeling and what the experience of writing to someone I didn’t know brought up in me.

Then, I was on a plane once, and in planes we have lots of time to think and reflect if we’re not plugged in, and I decided to write one on a sick bag. I looked around for a person who I thought would have liked the gesture and anonymously addressed them by their seat number. “To the woman in 56C, how are you today?” Then I wrote about what I felt when I looked at her and what she was wearing. And again, I said, “I hope you know you are appreciated in this world.” I buzzed the airhostess and asked her if she would deliver it. She was very excited to, and when the woman received it I saw her come alive.

I now write these “emotion sickness letters” every time I fly. And the connection point is always around someone’s physical appearance. So I might say, “You’ve got a beautiful coat and it reminds me of this.” And I’ll tell a story. I remember on a flight from Queensland I kept looking at this guy with red hair wondering what his story was. He had such a straight posture, he could have been an army soldier or a pilates enthusiast. I wrote: “I can’t help but write you today, and we’ve got a long flight together. I’m curious about your story. If you feel like writing back I’ll tell you a story too. But first of all, lovely to see you, you look beautiful and strong and healthy.”

I was a little scared as he was just across from me, and I felt strange asking the airhostess to deliver it. But she happily gave it to the gentleman and he wrote back: “I would definitely love a story on this flight. Thank you for your beautiful comments. Let’s write to each other.” And so I told him how I was from Iran and when I was younger in Sydney I was fascinated by red hair, because I’d never seen it. I shared my experiences of migration and then he opened up about getting teased for his red hair as a kid. And we actually had quite a deep exchange about how Australians often show their love through mockery. As we were getting up to leave the plane, he came over and shook my hand and thanked me, and asked if he could keep the letters because he really loved them.

Another time I was flying with two fellow musicians and we spotted a man who looked really tired. We could see his body had probably been tired for 10 years. I also could see and imagine him at a time when he wasn’t tired. He wore a singlet and looked really proud of his arms, which were covered in tattoos. I wrote: “You have incredible body art. I’d love to know more about your story, you look like a really strong person.” He wrote back to us: “Thank you so much. I’m a prison minister and it’s been a long day. This is exactly what I needed. I’m so happy to receive this letter I feel like buying drinks for the whole plane!”

I’ve come to realise that most of us do want to connect in this way. And there’s something particularly special about starting that connection. For me these letters are really about paying attention to someone else, being curious and sharing stories. I highly recommend it.

Neda Rahmani was born in Tehran to a Persian father and a Mauritian mother. She arrived in Australia as a two-year-old refugee and has grown up the quintessential self-made Aussie musician and bedrock advocate of her music community. 

Feature image by Amandine Thomas