There have been a lot of ups and downs in the 16 months I’ve spent in PC cyberspace. One of the pleasures — and ironically, the miseries — was connecting with my first penpal — no, beloved friend — Hugh Kearnley. Who could have thought my internet soulmate would turn out to be a big, fat bawdy Scotsman?

I said there was pleasure and misery in our relationship. The pleasure was simply in the communication. Hugh was smart, funny, knowledgeable about a broad range of subjects — and extremely gifted. But I think what drew us together was, as Hughie put it, we were both hopelessly romantic and sentimental.

For seven or eight months Hugh and I wrote each several times a week. You would think corresponding with a dying man would be depressing, but it wasn’t, most of the time. There was a lot of laughter.

Hughie was diagnosed last December with advanced PC that had spread to his bones. And he already had heart trouble and diabetes. So what got him in the end was not the PC, but a heart attack he suffered on September 24, 2007.

I already described the pleasure in my relationship with Hughie. The misery was — simply — losing him. AND what came after. It was so bad that I found myself wondering: “Is it better to have befriended and lost, than not to have befriended at all?”

I was almost embarrassed by the intensity of the feelings I had for a man I had never laid eyes on, whose voice I had never heard. When I first realized Hugh had died (I mistakently thought it was his father), I was searching for the right words for the occasion . . . and what I came up with was this:

“By the rivers of Babylon — there we sat and also wept, as we remembered Zion. On the willows within it we hung our lyres . . . ” (Psalm 137:1-2)

These verses are well-known, but for me they carried a specific meaning. Because in a childhood marked by religious rituals, this psalm was recited only on Tis