Last month, when I interviewed Leah at http://www.ciboulette.blogspot.com/ I had asked her if she had a foreign pen pal. In her response, she threw the question back at me and I have been meaning to write about it for some time now.
I have always loved reading stories about foreign pen pals who write faithfully for many years and eventually meet. There was a touching story like this recently in The Salvation Army's magazine, The War Cry. It was even about a woman my parents knew since she attended the Janesville, Wisconsin, Salvation Army.
But I never had a foreign pen pal until several years ago. It is funny. I am trying to remember when exactly I met my first internet friend and it seems like I have known her for so long that I cannot remember when our friendship first started. I know that my ES was probably 2 or 3 when we began writing, so our friendship is going on 10 years now (that is amazing!)
It was really chance that brought us together even. My husband was on the computer and noticed that AOL offered a pen pal hook-up. He knows how much I love writing, love travel and love meeting people from other countries, so he suggested I give it a try. I think I only responded to three or four possible listings.
Katja was the one person who responded and began to regularly correspond with me via e-mail. She lives in Germany. I had thought that I would seek out someone from England, because that is probably my first love (I am an incurable anglophile), but did look over the profiles for people from Germany as well because my mother's mother came to this country from Germany, my mother spoke some German to us while growing up and I took German courses in high school, college and graduate school.
Katja does very well writing to me in English, which is a good thing because I would have a hard time reading her letters if they were written in Deutsch! Every once in a while, I will write to her in German and it is usually quite a laugh! She is always gracious when I point out an error in her English.
After a few years of corresponding and a few phone calls, we actually got the chance to meet. In early 2004, I was on-line when Katja and I began to instant message. She was writing that she wanted to travel somewhere, but didn't know where she should go. I am so naive! I immediately wrote - "Why don't you come to the United States to visit me, then?" I ran to my calendar and told her that our spring break was coming up.
I can't remember if my husband was at work when this conversation took place, but I know that when he learned that I had invited her, he was out-of-his-mind with worry. His arguments were all valid. "We don't know anything about this person. So you've written back and forth for a few years, how do you really know she is who she says she is? Please tell me you didn't invite her to stay in our house! A complete stranger from across the globe!" Our house was very small, so I didn't really think she would want to stay in our house, but to be honest, looking back, I probably would have made that invitation if my husband hadn't objected.
After several weeks of making arrangements, she finally arrived. By the time Katja walked towards my ES and I in the airport lobby, I was beyond excited. I was nervous, apprehensive, excited, thrilled ... everything all rolled up in one. The drive home was weird. She had just landed on American soil and was getting used to speaking English exclusively (she had actually come to the States for a year as a teenage foreign exchange student). Plus, she was tired from the flight and time change. I showed her our home, introduced her to my husband and then drove her to her hotel (a lovely Country Inns and Suites in Sycamore, IL).
She stayed for 10 days. The first few days (Thu & Fri?) I had to work, so she exercised in the fitness room and wandered a bit. Thursday evening, I remember she came with me to our elementary school's Spring Sing. I was working with two special needs kindergarteners that year, so I had to accompany them while they sang on the stage, but from that point on, I sat with her in the audience. She seemed to enjoy the whole thing, even though these were my students and my son and meant nothing to her.
After meeting her in person, I would have to say that if we lived closer to one another, we probably would not have developed a friendship. She is very quiet and reserved. She is athletic and sports-minded (something I am NOT). She loved shopping while here (I can't say that I love to shop!) and is very stylish (again, I'm not). But what I have loved about her has been her openness with me. She is very real and doesn't hold back the stuff that might be hard to listen to. She has had some difficult times in life. She was married and divorced. I have felt very fortunate to have her as a friend.
There is too much about Katja to say in one blog post, so I will end by explaining why she is on my mind these days. She is enduring another difficult struggle and has shared this with me. My heart is breaking for her. I have vowed to pray for her, but that is all that I can do on my end. I have no answers to her problem. I can feel her sorrow with her and tell her that I care, but that is all. Across all these miles, we have made a connection. We have only spent nine days in each other's presence (I think we lost one day to illness), yet I love her as a sister. I am so thankful that I found her pen pal listing and that she responded when I wrote. I am so thankful that she has never thrown in the towel and just stopped writing to me.
I actually look forward to the next chance I get to sit across from Katja eating a meal together. Will it be at a Panera Bread (one of her favorites) in the States or will it be at a tiny German cafe? Will she visit me in my new spacious home in the farmlands of Indiana or will I visit her in the house she and her boyfriend, Martin, have just bought? I don't know, but I hope we get the chance to meet again some day. And I hope to tell you more about my special pen-friend!