I have my book (and my mad internet skillz) to thank for reconnecting with a friend this past week. But not just any friend. This is a friend like no other. My book recounts my adventures during the year that I spent living with a family as a Youth For Understanding (YFU) exchange student in a town in Valencia, Spain. That year there was another American exchange student, Leah, who lived in the very same town. Thanks to me it got off to a rocky start. But a year is a long time, and she and I became friends, experienced our ups and downs, and shared many of the aforementioned adventures.
It has been many years since Leah and I had been in touch. More than fifteen years (you know you’re old when…). And this summer marks the twenty-sixth anniversary of coming home from our exchange year in Spain. This is as strange to write as it is to believe. (Nobody tells you that even though the years pass, our complex and sophisticated brains can return us to experiences of our youth as if they were yesterday. And if you have a journal, it’s a tool–or a weapon–to help you relive everything almost as intensely as the first time.) And so Leah and I had lost touch. But spending so much time reading my journals and writing my book, the more time I spent, the more I just couldn’t accept that we would remain out of touch forever. I’m a stay-in-touch kind of gal. So I set out to reconnect with my buddies from the exchange year in Spain, Leah included.
In December I reached out to the one American friend with whom I have been in touch over the many years, Jackson. He had lived in another part of Spain that year (Málaga, what luck) and now lives in Florida. Hey! How are you? Let’s catch up since last we spoke. I’m writing a book about my experience during the year we were in Spain. Who else are you still in touch with? He and I brainstormed. From his connections I was able to sniff out a few more people and connect online. I was absolutely thrilled to find some of our friends out there, and exchanged a bunch of catch-up messages. Finding friends again and reconnecting are possibly the most rewarding and amazing things about Facebook (well, friends you want to reconnect with). But my girl Leah wasn’t on Facebook. Plus, with a somewhat common last name, she was very hard to pin down. Plan B: the alumni directory from our exchange program, published in 2008. I mailed out a card to the address for Leah in the directory (yes, snail mail! Gasp! Paper and stamps and everything), and when I didn’t hear back after a several weeks, I turned to the white pages online. I found another address for her and mailed a second card.
About a week later, my cell phone rang. We all have cell phones. You know how the random phone numbers appear on your screen. Is it a real call, or is it someone warning me that my car warranty is about to expire? The number was unknown but the city on the screen was where I had mailed the card to Leah. My heart did a little skippidy-do. I thought, this is going to be Leah, and I answered the phone. When her voice came over the line, it transported me back to our days in the sun together, of running for buses in Spain, sharing time together, and laughing when we were supposed to be serious. <a million heart emojis>
And so my friend was resurrected from the dead. Happy, alive, well, and sounding exactly the same as when we were turning into grownups, learning about ourselves, navigating friendships and life in another language, inventing our own secret language (I think we called it Spanglish–it was a super secret code), and drinking cortados at the bar. Leah, so excited to be back in touch!
I encourage everyone to reach out to an old friend. Life is too short. (As I get older, I understand this more and more.) Reconnect and tell that person how much they mean to you. Life is all about the connections we make and the joy we share together.