One of my favorite classes in elementary school was geography, especially in Miss Harrington’s fourth grade. I loved how we learned about the lives of people in faraway places. Back in that day, we would say they lived ‘overseas’ and that seemed like an insurmountable distance. The only people in my family that had traveled that far were the men in the military. For me, the closest thing to going there would be having a pen pal—something I read about in My Weekly Reader, our individual newspapers that we received on Fridays.
Back then, our class didn’t pursue a pen pal relationship with a classroom in another country—like the French students did at McDougle Middle School where I was the nurse. While the idea fascinated me when I was a girl, my interest wasn’t keen enough to pursue that on my own. The closest I came was making Christmas cookies with my Girl Scout Troop and sending them to soldiers serving in Vietnam. Months later, I was so excited when we received thank you letters. How special to see that envelope with the unusual stamp and my name in the soldier’s handwriting.
Today the world’s very different with how we’re surrounded by people of so many nationalities. While they bring the world to us, there’s still something about having a friendship by correspondence with someone living far away. Perhaps it’s that feeling from childhood, the sense of mystery in wondering what their community is like, how their daily routine is in that foreign place.
Last September, I spent a week at the Abbey in Iona, Scotland with forty-one people from around the world. We all went there to learn from our leader, Alistair McIntosh, about The Pilgrimage of Life. Because we came as fellow sojourners with the common need to explore our life journey, we quickly formed a bond. Recently the email list was sent to all the participants. There were folks that I’d enjoyed time with but had failed to get their address. I sent them a message and now think of it as sending a letter to a pen pal that I never had as a girl. With my electronic letters, I didn’t have to wait for weeks for a response. Instead, I had notes back within forty-eight hours.
One of my messages went to Jenny and John, a lovely couple from Australia. How nice that Jenny responded with a newsy email about recent visits with family and friends and her work as a minister in the Presbytery. It was as if we were sitting at one of the tables sipping tea and eating oatcakes, as our group did each night in the Refectory. I could feel her warm presence and hear her lovely Aussie accent.
And then there was the message to Aldo in Holland. He was the one who’d called my Southern accent “weird” (See post, Southern Drawl, Oct. 11, ’17). He had such a thirst for understanding and was so open to discovery through the process of that week. It was refreshing to see an adult who had that kind of energy for faith– given how worn down we can be by the time we reach mid-life. What a gracious response he had to my email and blog post. How exciting to hear of his plans for a future journey.
The urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com) defines a Pen Pal as, “A species of human made nearly extinct by the advent of electronic mail, penpals communicate via the ancient art of Penmanship.” Ouch! Makes me feel ancient!
Maybe I’ll create a hybrid form of pen pals by emailing Jenny and Aldo and asking them to write me back. Then I can enjoy that ancient art of penmanship, excited by their unique handwriting on those envelopes with the foreign stamps waiting for me in my mailbox.
How About You?
Have you ever had a Pen Pal?
What was that experience like for you?
Are there people you connect with through email or social media from other countries? How does that impact your life? How do you think it impacts theirs?