One of the sadder consequences of the internet is that the better part of an entire generation will probably never write a letter. Now they only send and receive email, without ever having to add their signatures. Handwriting - the ability to write legibly or even elegantly with pen and paper - is being abandoned. Nobody bothers any more about the notion that a handwritten letter is a personal creation passed from one hand to another. Now such personal contact is deemed unnecessary or even unsanitary.
Since I left the States, probably the last thing I expected was finding - or being found by - old friends. And yet three people put forth the effort necessary, two of them on the internet and one by telephone, to locate me - without, of course, expecting to find me here in the Philippines. I had not seen or heard from two of them in fourteen years. It was not exactly as miraculous or moving a reunion as it might have been if we had bumped into one another in the street somewhere, but it was just as good to have them back.
Coincidentally, I seem to have been lost, purposely or neglectfully, by several other friends. And two of the ones who found me last year have since drifted away. I still have the means to communicate with them, which is better than nothing, I suppose. But their willingness to reach back has somehow evaporated into extremely thin and inhospitable air - the same dead air one might hear on the other end of a telephone line when the person one has called puts down the phone to fetch something . . . and never returns. For some people, it seems, even the internet is too far to go after a change of heart or of mind. Too much water under the bridge, or over the dam, or just the ocean of water between us.
Somewhere Leonardo Da Vinci wrote that "nothing can be loved unless it is first known." I used to think that Leonardo, being an invert, had got it backwards, that nothing can be known unless it is loved. Now I know that there are few things more irreconcilable than love and knowledge. But it is a beautiful thought - and perhaps all the more beautiful for being so untrue.
At the end of his book, The Great Deep: The Sea and Its Thresholds, James Hamilton-Paterson takes his leave by ship:
"The departure of a ship is slow, celebratory, mournful. It gives time to think and the proper space in which to let fall one's lesser salt into the greater below. Something of moment is happening, part of whose subtext is a fear or resentment of the sea as the agent of long absences, slow letters and terrible news. Whoever they are, down at the docks one windy afternoon - friends, lovers, siblings - they are already separated. There are those on the quay and those already on board, though both are watching. The ship is about to sail. Gangways are lowered, ropes cast off. Heavy nooses splash into the slot of oily scum between truck tire fenders and iron cliff. Cries go up. The siren's blare, of such low frequency it shakes the stomach and jars loose fresh tears, sounds once, twice. Yet an illusion of unparting is preserved by the streamers, cheerful strips of paper sagging and twirling between the thousand pairs of widely separated hands.
"Over the whole scene hovers loss looking for somewhere to settle. Is it in the already spoken good-bye? In the last touch of bodies? In the cries of the gulls? Or does it now pulse along that thin paper nerve? It parts; they part. Yet still they remain visible to each other while loss fills up the space opening between them, stretching out between ship and shore, between hull and headland, dot and smudge, before spreading across the face of the globe.
"Travel is like death in that it requires mourning. The light melancholy of watching a coastline recede is a necessary observance. The caves sucked into the water's surface by the turning of invisible propellers - each subtly different, each marbling a dissipating track which stretches back, an elastic streamer - becomes hypnotic. They set us adrift on inward voyages where we barely have enough sarcastic energy left to stop ourselves seeing our frail barks upon the vasty deep as paradigmatic. Behind us the ocean is crisscrossed with thousands upon thousands of multicolored streamers, a planet festooned with farewells."