A few months ago, my pen pal passed away.
He had become a great friend, in part because we were both writers and we critiqued each other’s work, in part because he had a great sense of humor, and in part because of the weekly missives we would send to each other.
When we started writing longhand letters, he had just had a stroke and it was difficult for him to type. I typed the first couple of letters I sent him, and then I settled for the more organic—and difficult—task of writing him with a pen in hand.
Our letters usually covered the topics that were of great interest to us. For me, this meant I wrote about what I was reading or had just finished, antics from the annals of Kid Stories, and writing projects.
Over the nearly three years that we wrote each other, I came to appreciate how much I had been missing in my electronic communications with people.
For one thing, I didn’t have the ache to my hand.
For another, they were usually finished in one sitting without the squiggles and dooligigs indicative of a small child “helping.”
As I wrote these letters, which probably never topped 1000 words, if that, I realized that the very way I thought was different. As I composed longhand, I realized what a great skill this was to have.
In my childhood (in the 80s and 90s), I remember penning long letters to camp pals or distant relatives. I only ever scored one or two replies, and only once did I have a friend who replied to me as often as I replied to her. This recent venture was, in fact, only my second real foray into having a pen pal.
Underneath all of our discussions was our shared faith.
So though my friend is dead, I know now that our communication is even more lasting. As I pray for him now, I hope he will pray too for me, and be in a position soon to have a drink with the Blessed Mother and map out the awesomeness of heaven. If anyone’s writing fiction up there, he’ll be joining that group.
I miss my friend, indeed, and I miss the writing I’m not doing as a result. There was something tangible in those letters—both the ones I sent and the ones I received—that just doesn’t exist in any other part of my life.
It has me thinking about those people in my life—especially those who might be lonely—who could use a letter or a note. Maybe I’ll give that a shot this summer, and maybe I’ll have the budding artist-writer-princess in my house give me a hand with it.
This “Finding Faith in Everyday Life” column originally appeared in The Catholic Times.
image credit: MorgueFile
Condolences to you and your friend’s family. This post really resonated with me. I love the opportunity to use simple stationery and write out my thoughts to loved ones (I delight in Christmas and birthdays because it gives me an excuse to write out personalized thank you notes. I’m delighted to find that my 6 year old daughter is enamored with writing letters for her grandparents and cousins. It would be sad to lose this beautiful method of communication to the “better” technologies. May you always find ways to continue correspondence in ink! 🙂
Such beautiful thoughts, Cate. My 7yo loves writing, too, and I think my 4yo is going to end up that way too.
Yes, I do need to find another old-fashioned pen pal. It really spoke to a part of me! 🙂
I’ll be your new pen pal, I love handwriting letters. I still journal in longhand, it’s a different skill than typing because you can’t go back and edit what you wrote. The writing has a different flow to it. It seems more personal. I had a friend who used to live in another state and we would correspond with cards and letters. She now lives in the same town as I do and we see each other in person on a weekly basis but we still occasionally give handwritten cards or notes of encouragement to each other (now we just save the money on postage and give it in person)!
Sorry to hear about your friend, I hope he’s enjoying that drink with Mary…
Amy, that’s so true! And you find yourself writing differently–more clearly? more rambling?–as well.