My Godmother handed me the plain envelope, saying it was from my cousin (her daughter). I was seventeen at the time and my cousin was eighteen. My father had just passed away and we were having prayers at home. There were all sorts of people in the house. I excused myself - I had just been conversing briefly with an aunt, I think, an elderly woman that I hardly knew and hadn't seen in a very long time but funerals tend to reacquaint one with people one hardly knows - and went to the back of the house to read the note.
My cousin couldn't attend that night and it was our first communication since the death of my father.
I think of you
And I grieve with you.
Take care of yourself.
Your loving cousin,
We had always been close as children and her note meant a great deal to me. Her mother was my father's younger sister. We were related by blood but we were also friends. And now that we are both older and separated by oceans and continents, I feel fortunate that we live in an age where instant (or almost instant) communication is possible through the Internet.
The recent passing of Pope John Paul II increased the emails for a while as we discussed his life and death and what he had meant to us, even though he had always been so far away. On my part, I told her that it was always reassuring to know that he was there, even though we never saw him up close nor spoke to him. And it really was reassuring. We were both also surprised at how his death affected us emotionally. He was definitely someone to emulate and I wish that I had learnt more from him while he was still alive. He has left a great legacy and I can find some comfort in that. And to trust the Holy Spirit. I have to trust. When I was a much younger woman, I remember seeing him from afar when he visited. His ever familiar Pope mobile went round the tracks of the stadium and something welled up inside me as he passed by. What was it like? Euphoria? Mixed with an indescribable emotion? The experience wasn't entirely emotional. There was also a certain knowledge. He was still so far away, unreachable. And, for a moment, I understood. He was only a man and yet, for us, he was more than that. And, even then, I wondered what it would be like if Jesus Himself had passed by.
For I know I still seek His face.
My cousin wrote that a part of her wished she could just take off to Rome and pay her respects and didn't I wish I could do that too. Yes! I replied. I did wonder about it earlier but reality eventually set in and the both of us had to settle for watching the events unfold on television. My cousin and I once shared so much as young girls during our schooldays, even our spiritual journeys. We could talk about our faith experiences, share and discuss. It's wonderful to know that we can continue sharing as the adult women that we've now become.
I recall the concern in her voice when I finally managed to speak to her over the phone after the death of my maternal grandmother. It was a few years ago and I was home for a visit. She was one of the few that I called right after to let her - and her family - know about my grandmother's passing. I thought that I had called her cell phone for she had given me the number just a few days before during an outing. She didn't answer so I left a voice mail, thinking she would get it soon. There was no word from her nor her family. Her mother wasn't in the best of health so my mother and I just assumed they had other things to worry about. We didn't want to bother them after that so she and I never got to see nor talk to each other until later when it was all over.
I don't know whose phone number I had dialled - and who finally heard my voice mail message with its personal details - but it certainly wasn't my cousin's. In my haste, I must have written down the wrong number or dialled the wrong number by mistake. After the funeral, when we were at home, my mother must have called my aunt again and told her, or my cousin, the news. When I was called to the telephone, my cousin asked how I was and I knew it was to do with my grandmother's death. It caught me a little by surprise but I appreciated her concern. I was very casual about it but I did think it was very thoughtful of her to ask about my well-being. I supposed that I would have done the same if it were reversed. I hoped that I would. Yes, of course I would.
It was either a birthday present or a Christmas present but I remember writing her a short story titled, "A Chain of Letters," about a young girl's correspondence with a young man far away. They finally met and fell in love but he died soon after in a war. I forget how old we both were at the time but it must have been during our late teens or somewhere thereabouts. That story is remembered (although somewhere at the back of my mind) because it was the first time I had written a short story for someone else, to be given as a gift. I wanted it to be personal, and something unique. I'm not sure how unique it was but it was definitely something personal.
Over the years, we've exchanged cards, gifts and letters as well as emails and digital greetings over the Internet. And although an actual paper card was always so much better than an electronic greeting card, digital cards still served their purpose. Some time ago, I received a lovely digital birthday card. She had chosen a picture of two young people looking at a starry sky on a moonlit night. And she had written these words to accompany it:
Time may fly and distance
may prevail but you'll
always be the cousin I
remember - the one who
played with me when we
were young and full of
We are no longer the very young cousins that spent time together when we were children, playing with her two younger brothers and a few of the neighbourhood kids, or playing hop-scotch or badminton by ourselves or writing stories together, reading, exploring, or going to the movies. We loved going to the movies. We once saw two different movies in one day for that was what we wanted to do. So we did.
We no longer have the same dreams that we once had. Or do we? Maybe some of those dreams have been realised; maybe some of them will forever remain elusive.
She is my cousin. She is family and she is also a friend. She has her own journey. And I have mine. And perhaps, once in a while, the two roads still manage to meet up with each other.