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And So We Meet

I am about to really date myself here, but I am willing to risk it to make a point.

I must have been twelve years old when I joined Aunt Jane’s Letter Club, a regular column in the New Orleans Times Picayune. It was designed to connect kids who wanted to write to pen pals. I had several, mostly girls my age. They lived in various states, although a few were from England since at that stage of my life I had become quite enamored with all things British, thanks to my obsession with the Beatles. By my mid- teens, I was writing to soldiers in Vietnam, hoping to offer some support, while trying not to appear like some desperate line out of a Carol King song. Sometimes, it would take weeks, months even, for those letters to make it to their destinations, but when a response arrived, postmarked from a distant zip code, it was thrilling!

Now, of course, we expect an instantaneous cyber-connection as messages are being exchanged at lighting speed. And we write differently, too, with shorter, more concise communication, a 144-character tweet, a quick email or text punctuated with emoji’s or GIFs, designed to take the place of words.

In addition to our social media pages, we seek out special interest groups to join, those that appeal to us because of common interests or concerns. I belong to the ones that sell stuff in the neighborhood or swap recipes. These have lots of members with little or no interaction, other than collective approval of some random post. The other ones, like the ovarian cancer groups, are more of a created community among those who share their stories and provide mutual support. And I have developed some close friendships with women I have gotten to know this way.

These two examples, although many decades apart, have something in common. They allow people who have never met to build a connection, to learn about each other without the distractions of an in-person encounter. There is a certain degree of suspense in that, which is why online dating is so popular, but such situations can also provide the freedom to be more authentic. The goal is to truly get to know the person and to ultimately meet in person. Being able to authentically bond through ongoing communication before actually sitting down face-to-face can be wonderful if it is open, honest and if the photographs exchanged aren’t filtered or altered so much that the subjects no longer resemble themselves.

The whole idea has me thinking of life in a spiritual sense, and trust me: this isn’t as big a leap as you might imagine.

My prayer life has grown exponentially since I was diagnosed with cancer. That should come as no surprise. I can’t imagine how anyone gets through the challenges of this disease without faith. But unlike the televangelists, who can launch into some mighty pretty impromptu prayers, punctuated with “thees and thous,” my communication with God is more like a running text with your best friend. Throughout the day, I check-in, I give thanks, I recite some Bible verse I learned as a kid. I ask for favor, not just for myself, but for friends and family, too. I try to keep in mind that The Lord isn’t Santa Claus, so I refrain from rattling off my wish list, although I do slide in a request or two. Occasionally, I get distracted and go off on a tangent. He manages to follow along. It is all very informal, but that’s also what makes it personal.

Sometimes, I hear an answer, a subtle whisper in my ear, a knowing deep within my soul. Sometimes, I see a tangible manifestation, like a parking spot in the good lot at the hospital. But often, He is silent, and I just feel His presence, the way a newborn senses its mother.

I know that someday, my life on this earth will be done. That’s not exactly a dramatic statement since eventually, the bell tolls for all of us, but perhaps being ill has made me more aware of my mortality. Yet oddly enough, that doesn't make me sad. Most days, I feel like I am headed toward a glorious meeting with my favorite pen pal, my best cyber buddy, the one who knows everything about me, even the number of hairs on my balding head. (And loves me anyway, I might add.)

But unlike the blind date between strangers, an awkward gathering arranged from some contrived website, this encounter will be magnificent, better than anything that I could possibly plan here on our sad little planet. I will get to properly thank Him for my bountiful blessings and ask Him all of my unanswered questions. There will be laughter and tears, of that I am certain, but there will also be indescribable joy. That moment will be the culmination of a lifetime of the building of a spiritual bond, a divine friendship based on faith.

Until then, I’ll keep on talking. Fortunately, He is a kind and patient companion, who always listens. I’ll prattle on about my fears and joys, whisper the secrets I hold in my heart. I will go to Him when the pain is too much to bear, the sorrow unrelenting. I will share my triumphs with Him, sing the familiar songs of praise. And I will find great comfort there. You see, our relationship is dynamic: it continues to grow. And that, above all else, makes it even more special. Someday, I will understand how extraordinary it truly is.

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