A few weeks back, I popped over to my friend John's blog to read his latest chatterings and was dismayed to find a note saying he'd gone on hiatus due to a family emergency. I immediately wrote him a concerned e-mail (would've called, but he's in Slovenia, which mucks up both my sense of time and my phone bill) letting him know I was available as needed to do whatever I could, and sending my fervent hopes that the emergency had passed.
The worry I felt was of the sort that I reserve for my closest friends, which I consider John one of. That's a remarkable thing, that closeness, given that we've only actually seen each other twice, and have lived on the same continent only once, and then for a mere matter of months. Our friendship amazes me both for its strength and depth, but more than anything because of the fact that it was established entirely on e-mail.
Our history goes something like this: in August of 2000, J posted a funny and intelligent message on tautologies and road travel to Sinister, the Belle and Sebastian-themed mailing list to which we both belonged. Amused, I replied (directly to him), This is just to say that your post may quite possibly be the best thing posted to Sinister ever. EVER.
Bravo. Write more. Please.
Right on, [Yes, I did indeed use this phrase, but the folly of youth excuses it]
This elicited a flattered response from him, and began a never-ending back-and-forth flurry of messages in which we discussed topics ranging from JD Salinger to Phil Collins to Argentine wines to edible innards of animals. We cobbled together an odd and entirely e-mail based but nonetheless durable friendship, and soon felt comfortable enough to seek and offer advice on various relationship and career and life choice matters. (Before leaving my job last year, I printed out vast swaths of our messages, which now serve as a sometimes hilarious, sometimes heart-rending, always fascinating look at a particular point in time.)
We met for the first time in the summer of 2002, when I flew to Europe and we spent two weeks traversing a goodly part of the southern chunk of that continent. We saw each other again that December, when we both happened to be in New England at the same time and met up for pad thai in Cambridge. We haven't seen each other since.
But J is one of the first people I turn to (electronically, but still) in the midst of life-crumbling moments, and through his blog, our e-mail exchanges, and the occasional letter or postcard, I feel like he's far closer than thousands of miles away. I've never met his wife or their son, but they both seem familiar to me. John and I used to live significantly different but not entirely dissimilar lives; now the similarities are so few as to be countable on a hand or two, but that seems to matter very little. He remains "J," I remain "E," and there feels like there'll always be at least one constant in the world.
For that I am grateful, and still now, four years on, fairly amazed.