by Ellen Barone
I was recently swinging in the balcony hammock of a rented apartment in Medellin, Colombia, enjoying a YouTube video of James Corden singing carpool karaoke with Stevie Wonder, when a Facebook private message flashed across my iPhone screen. The name was unexpected. Someone who’d befriended me nearly three decades ago when I lived in Scotland. I quickly swiped through to the message, eager to read what Jill had to say.
Jill is one of those people I liked immediately. I was drawn to her infectious curiosity and mischievous sense of humor and remember her as the first to say yes—to any adventure, a long walk in nature, or an evening at the pub. After my year in Scotland, we stayed in touch for a while, and she even visited my husband and me in New Mexico. But then we lost touch over the years.
As I read the message, I saw that Jill was still logged in, and we started live chatting. Although continents and time zones separated us, the decades apart unraveled easily with Jill’s story spooling out in text bubbles. She had lived abroad in Australia, gone through various career changes and challenges, and, most recently, had a frightening bout of chemo and cancer. I filled her in about my life as best I could, updating her on our itinerant lifestyle abroad, my gradual transition from travel journalism to web design, my dad’s recent death, and how much I was looking forward to the upcoming visit of my 26 year-old niece who was born during my year in Scotland. It felt so good to connect, to share things that matter and a mutual gratitude for life, love, travel, and friendship.
As we typed, the paused carpool karaoke video was still visible on my phone display, and an old memory surfaced: one infused with music and laughter and fierce natural beauty.
"When you were with us in New Mexico, seventeen years ago," I tapped out to Jill, "do you remember driving home from Santa Fe, singing loudly in the car, and watching a fiery sunset unfurl before us? Do you remember it? Did I dream it?"
“Ellen," Jill typed back, "I remember it as if it happened LAST year. I have very vivid memories of the road trip, the sights of Santa Fe (adobe, the train which crossed the road junction, lots of bright colours...) and playing the Thelma & Louise CD in the car. Not to mention the glorious sunset and the inspirational, empty landscape. It was VERY memorable and one of life's special moments which you remember many years later. I don't think I'll ever forget it.”
"Yes, exactly!’ I replied excitedly. "One of those memories that’s so vivid, so special, it seems like it might not have been real."
I suddenly realized that I had been feeling a little lonely. Medellin is one of the few places we've lived where I haven’t built a solid connection with a special female friend like Jill. And though there is music in my life here, I've been experiencing it in solitary moments -- in the hammock, during exercise, letting loose with late night dance outs in the apartment. Nor have there been many road trips out of the city and into the vast swaths of empty nature where my heart soars. The chat with Jill rekindled the joys of shared experiences and reminded me to get out more.
"Much love, Ellen," Jill eventually typed in closing. "I missed our communications over the years, even if they were infrequent, and mostly I missed the friendship of a true kindred spirit. You have always occupied a place in my heart! Un abrazo muy fuerte. Tu amiga Escocesa."
"Igualmente amiga, I replied to my old Escocesa, or Scottish friend. "Hasta la proxima vez. Cuídate."
It’s easy these days to view social media as a discouraging stream of Trump, tragedy, and outrage. But as I lay in the hammock listening to B.B. King’s Better Not Look Down from the Thelma & Louise soundtrack, I was flying high, warmed by the unexpected gift of the Facebook connection.