I spent my junior year of college studying in the beautiful cathedral city of Durham, England, in one of the finest old universities in the country. That year gave me an appreciation for living in another country and absorbing its culture through every day life. I felt strongly that it was important to experience and live with the differences rather than trying to impose our American ways on a foreign environment. Otherwise, why bother leaving the USA?
It was during that year that I met Mary and we became close friends. In the pre-internet world, we managed to stay in touch over the years through letters, and treating ourselves to one holiday phone call at Christmas time. Each time we connected, it was as though we’d just been together days before. That is the hallmark of true friendship.
One of my parting comments to Mary at the end of that year abroad was to convey a wish. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if years hence, our children could become pen pals and we could send them across the ocean to stay with each other and experience living in a different country?” Sure enough, we each married, and had a family. Our oldest were both girls, just one year apart, and at age six, they began writing to each other. Their diligence mirrored ours, and their friendship grew. And at the tender age of 12 (what were we thinking?), we put our daughter, Karen, alone on a non-stop flight to London to visit her pen pal, Ruth. Several years later, their brothers followed suit. While their correspondence was more sparse and they found less to talk about on our holiday calls, they still formed a bond. More trips followed in both directions.
Fast forward through the years, and on to our daughters’ weddings. Ruth came all the way over with her parents for Karen’s wedding, and last summer we were all present at the quintessential Oxford wedding for Ruth. It felt so right to be there, like being part of the family.
I had no idea what my wish would spawn. I do believe my children have acquired the same appreciation for other cultures and an interest in seeing more than tourist sites while traveling. My own friendship with Mary is stronger than ever, having seen each other through numerous life changing events. And the distance between us has dwindled dramatically with the help of email, Facebook and Skype.
Now that grandchildren are on the scene, perhaps they will carry on the tradition for yet another generation. My wish lives on.