Tonight’s story arrived in a round about way. I had intended to do a review of a tv series that I recently started watching. Just before beginning on that post, I went to Google to look up photos of the series. As it happened, the first news headline beneath the Google search bar announced the cancellation of that series!
Sitting on my bed, in my room, I opened up to other possibilities, and another story to write. My eyes fell on the vignette in the vintage suitcase atop my armoire, a visual reminder of my love of traveling and the desire to do more exploring. And that glance suddenly unlocked a flood of memories.
This is the true story of two friends who have never actually met. However, the actions of my long distance friend Erik nurtured a hope within me that later manifested into reality.
I met Erik in 2004, in an online chat room for people who loved The Phantom of the Opera story. The film version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical had just released and I fell in love with Phantom. In a time prior to Facebook or Instagram, I connected with amazing people from around the world who shared an appreciation for this classic story. I’m still friends with several of those creative souls.
Erik lived in Germany at that time. He was as mysterious as the Phantom at first, in the chat rooms, and ironically, had much in common with that character. Over time, as trust grew between us, we became the technological equivalent of pen pals. We spent hours chatting about the movie and about the fan fiction that sprang up to feed the desire for more stories about the POTO characters.
I learned more about Erik, as he opened up about his life. His stories are just that, his, and not mine to share. I marveled though at his ability to rise from the metaphorical ashes of a difficult youth and create beauty. He shared deeply moving artistic expressions…musical pieces on the piano and violin, songs, poetry and written stories. Erik was able to use the fire of pain to forge incredible works of art.
I still have recordings of his songs, although the stories are long gone, casualties of a string of computer crashes. I have a dvd that I cherish, his performance in the musical Jekyll & Hyde, in which he played the title role.
And I have items displayed throughout my home, that came to represent hope to me. Erik had lived in or visited many different countries. I had visited none, yet, other than Mexico. Knowing my desire to explore new places, Erik began to send me gifts, items from around the world.
I received Japanese geisha girls and intricate fans, a cuckoo clock from Germany, a Scandinavian nesting doll, statues, a vase, plates, keepsakes…all from various countries. The canvas painting in my travel vignette, the piece that drew my attention tonight, and inspired this post, is from Erik and came from France.
The final gift that Erik sent me was a big surprise. We had discussed the Lord of the Rings stories by JRR Tolkien. I love that epic tale of transformation. In particular, I identified with the elven Arwen. Erik sent me a replica of Arwen’s sword, as a reminder of who I really am as I journey, and as a connection to another destination, albeit fictional…Middle Earth.
I’ve had the privilege of traveling, since those days when seeing the world was just a dream. Tonight, as I thought about my friend, whom I have not heard from in years, I realized how important, how precious, how sustaining those gifts were. They ignited a hope within me that someday what I dreamed of would come true. Erik shared his travels with me. He helped me to develop a bigger view of the world.
And, I realized tonight how precious the friendship was. Erik and I never spoke on the phone. We never tried to meet. We didn’t need to. It was enough to connect via chat rooms and later by texts. We shared hopes and dreams and we discussed the sorrows and joys of life. And eventually we lost touch with each other. Until tonight.
With a bit of hesitancy, I sent a text to the last phone number I had for my friend. I identified myself and asked if this was still Erik’s cell number. I knew it was possible he had a different number. Or that he would not or could not respond. I had things I wanted to tell him, stories to share about countries I’ve visited. I wondered how he was and what he was doing.
I didn’t have to wonder for long. Almost immediately I received a reply. “Hey, love. It’s been a while. How are you?”
Oh my friend, hello again, I have so much to tell you…
“Friends…they cherish one another’s hopes. They are kind to one another’s dreams.” Henry David Thoreau