Monday, January 5
Postcards Into the Void
Any time I land in a nation, or when I'm about to leave one, I purchase a dozen postcards and take an hour in a coffee shop to write them all out and address them to friends. I was about to say "my friends in the States" but I have at various times had penpals in other nations. At the very least, a few people who collected postcards and traded them with me.
This gets to the core of what I realized: I'm not in touch with most of these people anymore. I look at the names of people I wrote in late 2010, when my wife and I toured SE Asia. I'm still friends with a few of those, but some of those relationships have petered out and veered to the wayside. In early 2009, when our families went on a cruise, I wrote postcards in France to people I struggle to recall. They were significant enough for me to note in my travel journal, but now they've crumbled to dust and have no property in my life.
That makes me wonder what's happened in the last several years, that these people could have meant enough to me to shell out a couple bucks on postage for, but now months or a full year can go by and I don't even think of them. What causes that? Time runs much swifter for an older person than for a child, something most people realize after the first third of their life, but do relationships blossom and wilt so swiftly too?
That makes me wonder whether I should have wasted those postcards on them. Did it mean anything to them, that I thought of them and wrote a little summary of my trip? Did they enjoy the stamps, if not the picture on the card? In some cases, I wonder if the fact that I was traveling abroad was a contributing factor to the atrophy of that friendship. Maybe those experiences changed me from the person they enjoyed to a paranoid, self-righteous apologist; maybe they were simply envious I was six miles from the equator while they were buried in snow. And maybe it's good that those "friendships" went away.
It's one thing to write a letter, fill out a card or send a postcard to someone you don't expect to hear from. You're doing it for yourself because you love to send postcards, or you know the person will enjoy getting something nice in the mail, like giving someone a small gift without expecting anything back. It's something else to go on a trip, write postcards to your friends back home, then return home and discover no one's waiting for you. Your priorities were mistaken, your judgment was faulty: these were not worthwhile people for you have worked to stay in touch with. They were acquaintances of supreme convenience, and when you became inconvenient, so too did you become not-friend.
Still. I don't think I committed any moral wrong by sending a postcard in good faith. It was still a good intention and if the unfolding of events showed me that it was a waste of time, so what? I've wasted my time on higher and lesser causes alike. Time-wasting is a fact of life. I did spend that time happily writing out a postcard, enjoying browsing various stamps. As with most things, I have to focus on what I got out of the experience, intrinsically, rather than looking for validation from others.