Once there was a girl, about fifteen years old, who had a very good friend. In fact, it was her best friend, who unfortunately lived far away – worlds away, it seemed. But they had been “pen-pals” as long as she could remember, because their families had known one another. You know what that's like – when you adopt the sons and daughters of your parents' friends, right? Sometimes you don't have much in common with them and that can be a little awkward, but in this case it had worked marvelously. They understood each other quite well – they enjoyed many of the same things, such as the outdoors, and stories, and poetry. The only hard thing was that the move away was so long ago that she had a hard time recalling exactly when it had been. It was almost like a dream. Still, they both faithfully wrote, and their friendship lived vividly in the lines of their letters.
Their correspondence was voluminous. It is hard for us to imagine in our day and age how people used to have the energy, patience and wit to write daily letters, but it used to be true. In this case, it was no different. Almost every single day, she would scribble down on a page or two -expressing her thoughts, hopes, fears – nothing was off limits in their discussions – and seal it up, and send it with a stamp. And in return, there was always something waiting for her to read, something really interesting or encouraging or uplifting. Think about what that would be like – to come home from school every day, knowing that there was a fresh letter waiting from your best friend. Sometimes she would find it hard to concentrate on schoolwork, because she was so excited to rip open the day's envelope and see what was there to read.
At a certain point, her friend began to write the phrase “I am with you.” She wondered how could that be, until she realized that the piece of paper she was holding – all of those words and feelings – were a sort of presence. She began writing that back, as a sort of inside joke but also something that was kind of true - “I am with you...too.”
You might be thinking: does this girl have any “real” friends? Isn't it kind of pathetic that she's living for these things arriving in the mail? Well, let me put your mind at ease; of course she had other friends around. But there's nothing like a best friend, and hers just happened to live far away, so that's how it had to be. Plus, you and I both know that we can surrounded by flesh-and-blood people – and still feel quite lonely. Her friends at school and in the neighborhood were generally kind, but if they had a misunderstanding or if they were busy, her friend in the letters would help her sort it out and she always felt as a huge burden had been taken away. You know what that's like, when you can just talk it out with someone. She had that possibility all the time.
Her parents, as you might have guessed, were astonished at the volume of letters passing in and out of their mailbox, but when they saw the return address, they knew that there was nothing to worry about. Their daughter seemed cheerful enough, and though she was a little obsessed with writing and reading, most parents do not consider that a cause for alarm.
A few years went by, and as the girl grew older she was more preoccupied with her day-to-day life and also the decisions ahead of her. She focused on what she was supposed to do, studied hard, and managed to win scholarships to a handful of colleges. The long nights of studying, as you can imagine, left little time for letters. She tried to keep up with three a week, then it dwindled to two, and finally she reasoned: “my friend will understand if I can get around to it once a week. I'm so busy.” Meanwhile, the letters had not stopped coming in her direction, and they laid in a pile, unopened, or half read. She felt guilty seeing them there, and then a little resentful - “why do they need to write so often? don't they know how busy I am?”
When she did write, she was desperate for advice, and she knew her friend would know what to do. Where should I go to college? Should I date this person? What should I major in and what profession should I choose? To her frustration, the return letters never answered her questions directly. The responses were vague – the words seemed “nice” enough, but didn't answer her quandaries, and she started to wonder if she was growing out of her childhood friendship. “Pen-pals” - she thought- “that's kind of a childish thing.” (You'll have to forgive her - she was a little ignorant about the massive history of letter-writing, and how many important people have been pen-pals in the history of the world.) In this particular moment, though, she felt that the letters weren't really helping her much anymore on her end.
Still, she felt a sense of duty – maybe her friend still needed her. So every weekend, when she could grab a little break from school and sports and all the other things, she would still sit down and write a note. It seemed very tedious, though, and she was very uninspired. She herself writing about the weather, and her family's news instead of her own, and still had some space on the page, so she asked a few questions. One was, “Were you going to visit someday?” It was an idle question – she'd asked it a million times before, so it was more out of habit than curiosity.
But the next day when a letter – smaller and thinner than usual – arrived, she ripped it open right away on a whim. Her old taste for the written words had come back a little at the strange envelope, and when a small square of paper fell into her lap, she almost squealed. The paper read:
“A little while, and you will see me.”