Several times a day, I click through the apps on my phone. I’m rarely met with emptiness. At the very least, I’ll find an email promising a sale or a follow request on Instagram from a webpreneur. I can scroll through endless photos and words, experiencing life with eight hundred of my closest friends.
Social media lets us pretend that we’re doing a good job of staying in touch. Facebook never lets me forget a birthday, and Instagram stories inserts me into the mundane moments of my faraway friends’ lives. It’s easy to know the details of someone’s life without engaging, and sometimes, that’s more comfortable. Taking the time to really communicate with someone, to make a conscious effort, requires time, effort, and sometimes, fear of rejection--will they be too busy for me?
Every few weeks, I start stalking the mailman. I peek in the mailbox three times a day, sighing when it’s empty or stuffed with ads and credit card offers. When I finally find a letter with a handwritten address, I rip it open as I walk back to the house, unable to wait to read the message of news and encouragement and friendship.
In a world where social media and smartphones have made sharing our lives effortless, I keep in touch with one of my best friends through ink and paper.
I knocked on Kristin’s door a few days after she and her husband moved to Los Angeles. One of the leaders in our women’s group at church had suggested I visit Kristin and make her feel welcome. I was apprehensive at the thought of walking into a stranger’s home and making small talk, but as soon as I saw her bookshelves, my nervousness lifted. I could see many of my favorites lining her wall and desk, and we slipped into an easy discussion about books as my toddler clambered over her pristine furniture. She watched him with a wistful smile, and I intuitively knew she desperately wanted a baby of her own.
I felt known and uplifted every time we had a conversation. I felt I could be open and vulnerable with the jagged edges of myself when we talked. Kristin has the gift of accepting the ugly while inspiring toward the beautiful. Her own struggles trickled out over the months of chats in the hall at church and girl’s nights. My instinct about her longing for a baby had been well-founded. I heard about her fertility treatments and watched her grow stronger as her hope continued to be unfulfilled. While she waited for her family to grow, she poured love into the children around her.
She took our family pictures one year, and our twenty-minute session lapsed into an hour as she chased my son with her camera. She captured his soul and expressions the way only someone who really loved him could.
The night before she moved away, we drove to Beverly Hills for ice cream and cookies. When I picked her up, she said, “Don’t start driving yet.” She took a deep breath. “I’m pregnant!” After six years of waiting and a cycle of IVF, she’d found out she was pregnant only forty-eight hours before. I was a few months along with my second son, and I remember her saying, “This is the first conversation I’ve had as a pregnant woman with another pregnant woman.”
A year later, I drove to her new house in Utah. I’d been staying with family nearby, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Kristin again and meet her twins. We sat on the floor and admired the babies, talking easily despite the year of changes for both of us.
The minutes raced by, and too quickly it was time for me to get back on the road. “I wish we lived closer,” I moaned. “I know we say we’ll keep in touch, but it’s so hard, no matter how much I want to talk to you.”
“Lately, I’ve been thinking that it would be so fun to write actual letters,” she said. “Email is so impersonal, and I hate talking on the phone. Would you be up for writing each other?”
Every month or so, I either send or receive an envelope thick with handwritten pages. It’s slower than a phone call or an email. But when a letter arrives, it is so filled with her personality and news and happiness. It’s so much warmer and more intentional than a text message, and the waiting gives it an extra air of specialness. It leaves me with a tangible reminder of someone I miss, a small piece of them I can hold in my hand. It’s not the same as being able to drive over to her house, but it’s much more satisfying than the fragmented, generalized fluster of social media. So sometime this week, I will find a quiet hour, sit down at my desk, stain my fingers, and open my heart.
Lorren is a mama to two blue-eyed boys, a military wife, a nurse, a bibliophile, and a writer. She recently moved to North Carolina. She blogs about books, motherhood, and her undying love for Trader Joe’s at When Life Gives You Lemmons. Her work has been featured before on Coffee + Crumbs, and in other publications including Mothers Always Write, Holl & Lane, Upwrite Magazine, Tribe Magazine, and Parent.co.