“I pretend that we are the oldest and dearest friends, as opposed to what we actually are.”
– Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), “You’ve Got Mail”
Lena Dunham knows me.
We’ve never talked, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t even know I exist, but she knows me. For the past few weeks, I’ve watched her HBO show “Girls” and have seen a sort of alternate version of my life play out. Though we come from very different backgrounds, somehow she’s put my life into words and images in a way I probably never could have or would have.
I have real-life friends, but sometimes you do get lonely, especially when the friends you’ve had the longest, live thousands of miles away, are experiencing adulthood in a completely different culture, and have very different priorities. Lately, when I’ve felt especially lonely, I’ve only had to tune into an episode of “Girls” – or even merely think about things that have happened on the show (like the drawn-in eyebrows Dunham’s character Hannah gets from would-be helpful co-workers in one episode, and the earnest speech she makes to her sort-of boyfriend Adam, with them on all the while) and I'll laugh, understanding and feeling understood (I’ve made some bad eyebrow decisions of my own).
Lena Dunham, as Hannah Horvath, with THOSE EYEBROWS!
Teenage me. Sadly, my eyebrows weren't drawn on...
I feel as if Lena has told me her deepest, most embarrassing secrets, and I’ve told her mine. We’ve confessed to each other how uncertain we are about the future, how confusing our relationships often are, and reassured each other we’re going to be all right. Lena’s taken me into her soft, tattooed arms and given me a hug.
And then there’s John Adams, who would be even harder to meet in real life. When I read David McCullough’s excellent biography of Adams
a few years ago, I recognized what Anne Shirley (another friend I’ve never met, and one who would be harder still to hang out with in real life than John Adams) called a “kindred spirit”.
I’ve never spent time with these people, or even spoken with them, or told them my hopes, dreams, fears – but we get each other in some cosmic way.
Among these friends I’ve never met is Nora Ephron. My friendship with Nora is a little different than that with Lena Dunham, though: I don’t know Nora as well, although I’ve seen many of her films and read several of her essays. I sometimes see certain things I can relate to in her work, but what made Nora so special to me, personally, is that she seemed to be one of those solid, wonderful pals who’s always rooting for you, and who knows exactly how to cheer you up.
A few weeks ago, stressed and tired and overwhelmed, I did something I often do when I feel like that: I turned on “You’ve Got Mail,” a movie Ephron co-wrote and directed. This film is a glimpse into a corner of my personal heaven. Divorced and recomposed families get along, relatives accept each other’s flaws with a shrug of the shoulders and a twinkle in their eyes, breakups can be perfectly okay for both partners, a character can reach what seems to be the depth of failure and loss, only to find love and hope. When I watch “You’ve Got Mail,” I see the world as I wish it was, how maybe it could be to some degree, and I feel better.
When I got online this morning, the top news story was that Nora Ephron had died of leukemia, at only 71 years old. My breath caught in my throat. The story from Yahoo News
included this quote: “’She was so, so alive,’ said her friend Carrie Fisher. ‘It makes no sense to me that she isn't alive anymore.’"
Carrie, I didn’t know Nora the way you did, but I think you put it perfectly.
I had so many other plans for today, writing-wise and otherwise. But I felt compelled to type this, to put something into the void (to paraphrase a line from “You’ve Got Mail”), some words about this woman whose work brightened my life in many dark moments, who made me hope for love before I found it, who took a dream I had and put it on screen.
It’s strange: In the fourteen years I’ve been watching "You've Got Mail" (some things, like the splendor of a beautiful day in New York, don’t change – others, like computers and email interfaces, do), I’ve always told people that I found the ending to be sort of disappointing. I wanted there to be a way for one character to go on living life as they had before. But the last time I saw it, it finally felt right. Nora’s message got through to me at last. Maybe I’ll be able to let it motivate me to change some things in my own life.
Nora, my never-met friend, thank you for everything. May you rest in peace and happiness, in a place even more wonderful than a spring day in Manhattan.