Sunday, June 15, 2008

A different view

As I sit here writing a letter of condolence to Erin, I am struck by a longing for a pen pal. I communicate with lots of people by email, but it lacks the tactile sensation of ink, or pencil, on paper and the sense that the fragile paper package has traversed oceans and continents or even just rivers and states to reach me and bring a glimpse of another time and another way of seeing the world. Many years ago I adopted a child from Nicaragua. I carefully dragged my rusty Spanish onto the page and sent cards for holidays and celebrations and letters to which she responded with pictures and drawings and her own halting English words as she struggled to learn my language. She has long since graduated from high school and moved out into the world. We lost track of each other but I wonder at times how she is doing and whether or not she married and had children of her own. What I miss most are the letters, the peek into her world that grew more detailed and richer as she grew up and experienced more of the world.

I have a basket of letters, a fairly large woven basket with a lid, that once was a very small box in which I have kept all my letters, some of which are going into a book. I received many more letters when I didn't have a computer, obviously, and I miss that, which probably makes me a dinosaur of sorts, a hedonist drunk on the scent of the perfumes of paper and ink, stamps and the fading brush of hand to page as each word was written.

This morning I googled pen pals and came up with a site that offers free connections to people from all over the world. I'm not looking for a date or a mate, I have those covered, but I am looking for that momentary glimpse of the world through another's eyes. What I did find interesting was the disclaimer about putting a physical address out on the net and legally covering the site owners' behinds by asking those using their service to be aware that some people will send nasty and obscene letters and might even show up on the door step and to absolve them of having a hand in anything of that kind. It seems so strange to think that it wasn't so long ago that the only way people could communicate is by letter and rarely by phone (it cost too much for long distance) and giving out your phone number and address was not so dangerous or fraught with peril. When did that change?

Let's face it. If you know how to use the Internet, you can find anyone's street address and phone number. Caller ID protects you from incoming calls but even a nonpublished number will not protect you from people who really want to find you, and that goes for your address, too. I know how to stop reading an obscene or nasty letter and throw it away. I know how to say no to someone who wants more than friendship and correspondence. I've done that many times, too. I also know how to call 911 if someone I don't know shows up on my doorstep without an invitation and refuses to leave. I know how to take care of myself because I've had to take care of myself for a very long time. I put my home address on the ad. I can't get a letter if it's not out there.

So this morning, instead of writing about the adoption book that was so difficult for me to read and still need to be reviewed or the little domestic details that are a part of my everyday life, I decided to reach out and ask for what I want, a regular pen pal. I still have work to do, trash to take out for tomorrow's pickup, roots to dye and clothes to put away but for this moment all I'm thinking about is the thrill and feel of a letter that has crossed oceans and continents or rivers, lakes and states waiting to be read that offers me a different view of the world we share.

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