August 1, 2018
A middle-aged guy who has a hard time throwing away things that still work ponders relationships in the social media age.
I'm one for getting the most out of the things I own. Maybe I'm just a throwback to when it was worth it to actually fix things and keep them going because they were built to last. My tour vans have all cleared 200,000 miles. It costs money to replace things for sure, but often now it is less than the cost of repair. It seems like most things are built cheaply to be replaced, and with a set expiration date to boot.
Mid-summer means three things here; peach season, our anniversary and my birthday. Last week, my sweet wife threw a little porch picking party for my birthday with a few old friends. As I looked around while we played and sang and laughed to our heart's content, I realized that I've known all of them at least 20 or more years, and their kids since they were newborns.
I was thinking of my dad giving a toast at our wedding fourteen years ago, which was the first time he really met his son's new Spanish in-laws. He wanted to convey to them a little bit about what our family was like, and he took note of our guests and how long he had known each of them - childhood friends of his and mine in attendance. His point was that in our family we tend to make and keep friends for the long haul. Building relationships that last a lifetime. Each unique, and irreplaceable.
After we bid our friends a late night adieu from our porch, slowly, with feeling, my dad's words were rolling around in my head. Like those older things that get dinged up and need repair sometimes, those friendships are worth most whatever they need for maintenance because they are built to last. Nourished and nourishing, they have sustained me for the bulk of my adult life in joy and comfort as well as music.
I've noticed a big trend in the tsunami of instantaneous and unfiltered behaviors and reactions to which social media has given rise. Someone stating publicly a "red line" over some issue; "if you don't agree with me then go ahead and unfriend me now". Maybe social media has enabled this as a new behavior, or perhaps it is a result of being much more easily whipped into an inflamed state of mind, but the result seems that we have grown to view "friendships" in the same "disposable" way in these turbulent times. Shiny and nice, and the latest rage for awhile, but with a set lifespan and low replacement cost. Why bother repairing it when you can just have a new "friend"? Someone who shares your values and beliefs, wherever they might be! No need to hang out with people you don't agree with about core values or policy details, just "unfriend" them and move on to the next.
It's probably not a coincidence that a movie about Mr. Rogers is a big part of our current cultural milieu. A man who understood human need and human relationships, and how to convey the importance of those foundations to children. While imaginary friends are a natural part of our childhood development, human history has given us no real experience with these "virtual friends" and how we interact with them. We seem to view these relationships as somehow more disposable, and thus we feel comfortable insisting on things that we would not do in person face-to-face with a longtime friend. And yet, how many of us crave those old friendships as we ourselves age, and develop our own ever-growing list of cosmetic dings and less-than-fully functional parts long after our warranty has run out?
I am blessed with a great many friends, literally from all walks of life. Thanks to the nature of my work, I probably get to see more of them than someone working in a more traditional field. But I can only manage the joy and intimacy of conversation with a couple at a time in person. Any more than that, and I am simply overwhelmed, and then frustrated and saddened afterwards that I couldn't spend more time directly face to face. "How are you?, "what have you been doing lately?," "that sounds like an amazing experience," the kinds of questions and stories I yearn to ask and hear.
My wife gave me the very best gift for my birthday this year. Not all of my best friends for sure, just as many as I could handle and fully enjoy in person in one sitting. Laughing, eating, singing, being human. And my dad is right still these many years later. Those old friendships are made out of sturdy stuff, well worth the effort to maintain and keep running. Irreplaceable.