When I was ten, or there-abouts, I made a friend. At the time we were living in Jakarta, Indonesia. This other girl (let’s call her Sophie) was a little older than me but we were in the same class at the International School because of how we’d both come from southern hemisphere schooling systems and jumped different ways into this American system. In the short time we were in Jakarta, Sophie became very important to me. She taught me how to dive. She taught me that kindness between friends was real and so special. I think, in retrospect, she was my first true friend – somebody who valued me for who I was but also who mentored me and taught me things about myself.
After only 18 months, the work my father had been doing in Jakarta dried up and we made the big move back to Australia again. Immature as I was, it never occurred to me that Sophie and I would stay in touch. But, sure enough, I soon received a letter from her. So thrilled was I to get something in the mail, that I couldn’t wait to write back. After that, I remember regularly skipping out to check our letter box (a rusted old can on a wobbly wooden post) and hardly being able to watch where I was going as I tore a little blue envelope open with Sophie’s familiar cursive on it and delved into the contents of her missive.
Sophie’s quiet determination to continue the friendship blossomed into a healthy pen-pal relationship. We exchanged hand written letters right up until I was at University. It was a regular beat in the rhythm of my life and I totally took it for granted.
And then email came onto the scene. You would think that this instant form of exchange would improve the relationship, right? Wrong. The easier it was to flick off a few lines, the less we wrote to each other and the less we knew about each other’s lives. It was too easy to just write “So busy right now. Will write again soon.” And then not write again properly and end up sending a very similar message the next time you found time to think of each other. Ironically, it became harder and harder to stay in touch. Later still, we found each other on Facebook. That was both worse and better. The emails completely dried up and instead we depended on public posts and the occasional photographs to stay in touch. The photographs were nice.
Obviously this all coincided with us growing up, taking on more responsibilities, getting married, having children, working, etc. So I can’t completely blame the technological age. But it does sadden me how little written communication is valued these days. We have whittled it down to text messages, tweets, carefully curated Facebook posts. It’s like we prefer mementos to the actual effort of traveling. Or we prefer to read book covers than the books themselves. It’s like snacking and never sitting down for a proper meal.
About eight years ago I stopped using Facebook all together. I vowed off social media for many and complex reasons and I knew I would lose contact with a lot of people as a result. Sadly, Sophie and I are lucky if we exchange news once a year these days. And if we do, it’s usually at Christmas.
So, despite my humorous ditty about my neighbour’s words last night, they tear at my heart a little. I really value the effort it takes to sit down and write a proper letter. I value the desire to stay in touch and stay connected. I value friendship incredibly highly. Sure, newsletters are a bulk production but I still would rather get them than not.
I miss you, Sophie.