The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a “Pen Pal” as “a person (such as someone in a foreign country) who you exchange letters with even though you have never met.” It goes on to further define the term as “a friend made and kept through correspondence.”
In the age of the Internet, it is not uncommon to meet and be “pen pals” with many people, not only in your own country, but other countries around the world. I can claim such relationships with people in Maine, Montana, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia, and England—even as far away as New Zealand and South Korea. Because I’m a writer, I spend a good deal of time corresponding with other writers on Facebook, and through the years many have become my “friends.” (Say what you will about Facebook, but it has provided me and many others a means of interacting with people whom we’ve never met, other than through the exchange of words.) Many times, I have tried to explain to my wife that, in spite of the fact that we have not met in person, I frequently feel a kinship with many of these individuals as though we lived next door to one another. Today, emails are the new equivalent of letters, the keyboards the pens. As such, I am a pen pal to many.
Bloggers in particular are people who find a kind of sustenance in exchanging ideas and sentiments with others, even if only on a computer screen. Commenting on one another’s blogs, we form relationships that become as real as any formed through face-to-face exchanges. One such blog that I have “followed” for over a year is Emotional Shadows, written by Balroop Singh, a woman originally from India, now living in California. She also follows my blog, and we have become pen pals.
As the winner of one of my recent poetry contests, Balroop had won a copy of one of my books, so I asked her for her “snail mail” address, and promised to send the book to her right away. But one thing after another kept me from fulfilling my promise, until about two weeks ago when she messaged me and asked if I had sent it yet. Somewhat embarrassed, I replied that I hadn’t, but would do so right away. “That’s too bad,” she wrote, “I guess I’ll just have to wait until I get back from Asheville to read it.” Asheville? Balroop was coming to Asheville! Quickly, I wrote back. “I live in Hendersonville, NC. It’s only 45 minutes away. Why don’t we get together for lunch, and I can give you the book in person?”
And so it was agreed that we would meet in Asheville. This had never happened before. I was actually going to meet one of my pen pals. But I was a bit nervous. “Come on, honey,” I said to my wife, “Come with me. It’ll be fun.” (There was no way was I going to go alone.)
Rather than try to describe our meeting, why don’t I just let the accompanying photographs tell the story (the old “a picture is worth a thousand words” business).
Oh, one other thing: Balroop and I are pen pals no more! That relationship has ended. After all, she is more an image on a computer screen, and I am more than just someone whose words she reads in a blog. I have a wife named Becky, and Balroop has a husband named Jatinder Pal, and he is quite a bit taller than I am—I know that because I have stood next to him in Pack Square in Asheville, while having my picture taken in front of the French Broad Chocolate Factory Lounge. And Balroop and Becky are new “BFFs.”
Pen pals? Pen Pals? We don’t need no stinkin’ pen pals. Balroop Singh and I are now full-fledged, real-life, true-blue friends. And in case you’re wondering, we’ve already agreed to another get-together next year. After all, that’s what real friends do!