In August 1958 my favorite cartoon character, Charlie Brown, began to write to his pen-pal for the first time but was soon thwarted when he spilled ink all over his letter. The stalwart little character did not give up entirely, though. In 1994 he started a pen-pal relationship with Morag, a Scottish cartoon lass. Charlie Brown was hoping for romance, but alas, he was crushed again: Morag had 30 other pals on her list.
So far I am luckier than Charlie Brown. I have three steady email-pals and I look forward to checking my email every day for news from them. They are nonjudgmental in their correspondence to me, provide me with an array of perspectives on various (some intimate) matters, and they have become my quasi-soulmates.
Pen-palship has quite a deep history. Catherine the Great and Voltaire never met but were frequent correspondents. Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were pen-pals. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S Lewis, Harper Lee and Truman Capote all kept up close correspondence.
My frequent exchanges may seem insignificant or meaningless to some, but to me they are a lifeline, particularly in my situation with my dear and sweet lifetime partner in her deep dementia.
One of my pals is a retired surgeon of about my age, whom I have never met. We first had email contact when I was searching for BC physicians with literary works to their names to be included in the Physician Authors section of www.abcbookworld.com. My pal provides me with emotional support in my situation, erudite comments on the world as it turns, poetry from literature common to both of us, and his partner provides recipes that remind me of my early Hungarian upbringing.
My next pal is the sister of a former student of mine, who died tragically. We chit chat in our emails about daily events in her family and I write about my days.
My third pal is a retired physician whom I last met in the early 1980s. We did not have any further contact until about a year ago. I sent an email to tell him how much I enjoyed some of his writings relating to medical history and he sent me a handwritten letter with favorable comments on some of my blogs. Since then I have been receiving a short note from him every morning by about 8 a.m. His daily note may be as simple as a description of his war against the weeds on his lawn or as complex as his quotations from British authors of the 18th or 19th century, somehow relevant to my trials and tribulations.
Actually, I have a fourth email pal. She is a great and cherished friend whom I see quite often, but we still exchange emails, sometimes daily, wishing a nice day in the garden, relating something funny that may have happened to us or something more serious relating to my wife’s care here at home.
I am very fortunate with my corresponding friends, more fortunate than Charlie Brown was with his, but then my pals are real, full of compassion, and a true lifeline to me.
—George Szasz, CM, MD
This posting has not been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.