I wrote a letter to the mysterious African doctor who would be arriving in San Francisco in six months’ time.  I introduced myself, asked him for the exact dates of his visit and encouraged him to plan his stay over a weekend.  I wanted him to speak at my church.  I wanted him to share with us his experience of growing up in South Africa.  I explained that the home in which I was living was occupied by three single women and that it would be awkward to put him up, however our pastor and her family volunteered to let him stay in their spare room.  I took the letter to the post office (this was before the internet was released upon the world), chose interesting stamps to cover the postage, affixed an “AIR MAIL” sticker across the front and pushed it into the little posting slot. I was assured by the mailman that it would take ten days to arrive at its destination.  I took note of the date and then I went back to my normal life.

A week and three days later I found an exotic-looking overseas epistle in my mailbox.  It was for me!  Postmark: South Africa. Whether from receiving something other than bills or the idea that this piece of writing paper had traveled over half the globe, my heart was racing.  I carried the letter upstairs and sat down on my bed, all the while staring at the ornate aerogramme.  Carefully I pealed the sealed sides back to open the missive.

The date at the top of the letter revealed that it had been penned on the exact same day I had written to the good doctor.  That meant our letters had crossed somewhere over the Atlantic and that he may have been, at that same moment, reading my post. The handwriting was stunningly beautiful, each letter formed with the careful strokes of a fountain pen.  I was more than a little impressed.

In his letter he briefly introduced himself and thanked me for hosting him in October.  He gave me the tentative date of his arrival in San Francisco and said that he would call from New York with flight numbers and times.  He explained that he was keen to walk around the Berkeley campus, since he’d received so many of our friend’s communications from there during her undergraduate work.  She wrote so well, he said, that he felt he knew the place and wanted his eyes to see what his heart imagined.

I must have read the letter six or seven times.  “What fun,” I thought, “to have someone from the other side of the planet visiting!”  I carefully refolded the paper and pressed it between the pages of my journal.  I was already forming an answer to his letter in my head.  I reached for my stack of marking.  “First things first,” I told myself.  “I can write back to him after I’ve done my work.”

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