An invisible friendship Print E-mail
News - Final Word
Wednesday, 20 February 2008 02:00

“I have a pen-friend whom I have never seen.”

In her second volume of autobiography, British comedienne Joyce Grenfell wrote about her invisible friendship with Katharine Moore. They agreed never to meet so that they could express themselves with greater freedom in their letters. It started in 1957 when Katharine heard Joyce’s comment on the radio about Professor Walter Raleigh. She called him “a miserable misanthrope”. Katharine wrote to Joyce to correct the impression, and Joyce wrote back. That was the start of a pen-friendship that lasted for 22 years. It ended with Joyce’s death in 1979. Their correspondence was published in 1981 as ‘An Invisible Friendship’.

Joyce will be remembered as the queen of the comic monologue, but she was also a gifted musician, talented film actress – she made 24 films - and witty writer. In 1973 Joyce lost the sight in one eye after an infection. Typical of her no-nonsense nature, she retired quietly from the stage but continued to work in broadcasting, appearing regularly on the musical quiz show Face the Music.

The main focus of her creative life became her writing and over the following six years she wrote two volumes of autobiography. In 1979 Joyce had an operation to remove her blind eye, which had become cancerous, and she died a month later aged 69.

Katharine was in her eighties when Joyce died. She eventually became 103 years old and had the chance to live in three different centuries. She was born in 1898 and died in 2001. Of her 18 published books, 11 were written between the ages of 75 and 92, after she was widowed. Her first novel appeared when she was 85.

The invisible friendship between these two remarkable women has become my main obsession these past couple of weeks. It kind of forced me to hold a magnifying glass up to my own camaraderies, trying to sort them into “a reason, a season or for-life” categories. Actually I’ve only once ever put a deliberate end to a friendship. She wanted to do too much for me – especially on the decision-making level, the good-advice level – because she feared that I’d make a wrong choice.

Now, girlfriend, I’m telling you that anybody’s fear of someone else making a ‘wrong’ choice is a judgement. It discredits someone’s right to learn through experience. You take away an adult’s power when you take responsibility for them.

These well-meaning responsibility takers make me almost as nervous as the sacrificing givers. Look, there’s no way I’m ever going to look appreciative enough for these friends. Few of us function well on an indebtedness level. That’s why I so enjoyed the freedom in Joyce Grenfell and Katharine Moore’s invisible friendship. Almost as much as I enjoyed the absence of “but I was just trying to help you” in their letters.

They were each inspired by the other; Joyce by knowing that there was someone like Katharine in the world and Katharine by knowing that there was someone like Joyce. I think that it’s this pleasure in another’s ‘being’, not in another’s‘doing’, that makes for a true friendship.

Author Anaïs Nin writes that “each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born”. There’s one thing “for-life” friends have in common – it’s that they are midwives to these births. They allow you to become more of the person you were meant to be, more of your whole self.

Colleen-Joy Page writes that your courage to be your whole self is the greatest gift that you can bring to the world. You fulfil your life purpose by being you. It is then that you give to friendship the only gift you were meant to bring – you.


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