Katrina and I have been friends for 36 years, shortly after we were matched (by hand in those long ago days before computers) as freshman roommates at the University of Chicago.
Our friendship has been maintained for that entire time largely on the strength of written correspondence. Not email, not texts, not phone calls, not Skype, but plain, old-fashioned correspondence.
Back and forth, back and forth, for all these years.
We have written about college, about jobs, about life. We have written about romances, about marriages, about divorces, about life. We have written about pregnancy, childbirth, childrearing, and our own children's experiences in college, jobs, marriage, and life. We have written about the death of her parents and about my cancer. We have written about sad times, lonely times, exciting times, boring times, exhausting times, and laugh out loud times.
We are Facebook friends, but we rarely touch base through Facebook except to share photos. We have each other's email address, but largely reserve that for finalizing the details of our occasionally seeing one another (more frequent in recent years with Warren attending the League midwinter managers meeting in New York). Not counting calling for directions, we have talked by telephone less than a dozen times in 36 years.
No, we are snail mail friends of the highest order.
As a result, our friendship has had a rhythm and pace to it that has molded it (and, perhaps, us as well) deeply over the years. When you drop a note or card into the mail and know that there will be a reply not in 10 seconds but perhaps 10 days, you put a little more effort and thought into the whole process. The time lag with written correspondence is such that the superficial "noise" of everyday life drops away. The daily routines, the seasons, and the passing milestones have deepened and have become the framework against which our thoughts and dreams and debates have played out over the years.
In my bedroom closet is a box, maybe 3 feet by 3 feet by 2 feet, that is almost full of Katrina's correspondence with me. There are postcards from almost every place she has traveled as early on we both got in the habit of sending postcards - the more garish the better in some cases - whenever one of us went "somewhere." There are Christmas cards with photos of her children - now young adults - growing up over the years. There are letters in which she chided me or responded to my chiding her. There are political letters (she is a conservative R and I am a liberal D) and there are theological letters. There is at least one letter that caused me to call her in response and the two of us to talk for an hour just so she would know she wasn't alone.
I don't know how many notes, letters, and cards are in that box. Hundreds at this point. I know I am only missing the handful of letters we exchanged in the summer on 1974 before we met in Chicago for the first time.
I believe Katrina has a similar box in her house, holding, of course, my letters and cards to her over the years.
I have left the box of her letters to her in my will.
You can't write that many words over that many years without getting to know someone really, really well. And because of that, when we do see each other, our conversation flows as seamlessly and connectedly as our correspondence has.
There is a scene in The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder where Ma is finishing a letter to send back to Wisconsin:
When her neat, clear writing filled the paper she turned it and filled it again crosswise. On the other side of the paper she did the same thing so that every inch of paper held all the words that it possible could.
That is what Katrina and I have done for the last 36 years. We have written down one side, filled it crosswise, down the other, and crosswise again - not just on paper, but on each other's lives. We have written all the words - and all the love, loyalty, friendship, concern, sorrow, and joy - that our lives have held to date.
Last night I sat at the table and wrote a letter to Katrina, in reply to the one she had just sent, which was in response to the one I had written last week, which was in response to…
Back and forth, back and forth for all these years. The letter went out in today's mail.