I don’t know if the current crop of kids know the term Pen Pal. They might think it’s a reference to the big hulk in the cellblock that everyone feels obliged to treat with deference, since most youth have little reason to have experienced letter-writing in its snail mail form with any regularity. Indeed, most of us who grew up in the pre-computer era have now also segued right on over to relying on the internet for our written correspondence.
So now, when I meet anyone from far away, we exchange email and LinkedIn and blog addresses. We even meet in cyberspace for the first time. I have a number of good friends I’ve never seen or spent time with offline, people I feel a connection with that, for all its ethereal qualities, is no less strong than that with friends and family I rarely see because we are separated by miles and schedules and other barriers of necessity. Indeed, the obvious advantage of having an entirely online relationship is that we rarely get exposed to each others’ major faults and minor flaws enough to grow seriously irritated or bored with them, thanks to Edit and Delete functions, and so we all maintain the polite fiction of perfection to a certain degree despite our knowledge that this is impossible. And of course it’s no surprise that those we already know and value would be happily met in the nebulous world of Skype and Pinterest, phone and Facebook, rather than lose contact altogether.
The reverse process is understandably rarer; just as it was unlikely for the paths of Pen Pals to cross physically in days of yore, it’s not often that cyber-friends can or will actually meet in person. So it was a great surprise to see on a blogging friend’s post that he and his wife were relocating from another state to the very town where I live. And, as I learned in the last couple of weeks, they were both brave enough to meet me in the real world.It turns out that these two are every bit as lovely in person as in the virtual world. Happily, their virtues are not virtual, and their fineness not fiction. I am honored that they were willing to take the leap and meet face to face and spend time together attending a concert of my husband’s, and humbled to find that even for a person who is usually inclined toward reticence and shyness and reserve when the safe remove of correspondence narrows down to a handshake or a hug, meeting and getting to know people even in the filtered world of the internet can still lead to good things in the dangerously beautiful real world. We may have changed a lot from the Pen Pal generations before us, but inside we still find our ways to connect, and that is a truly fine thing. Thanks, Heather and Ted!