A group of retirees sit at a table and debate the debt ceiling. I doubt Washington will be consulting these gurus, but they don’t care. It’s a game where points are won through logic and humor, where talking over another is the norm and where no one bothers to ask questions. It sounds like a bad case of real-life cable news and maybe it is – except that they pull it off with an implied wink that you’d never see from Glenn Beck.
I’m shaky nervous as I set up my MacBook. Brenna sounds out the noises of each farm animal. My mentor Brad the Philosopher once told me that courage begins small, in tackling tiny fears in everyday life. It’s a habit, like washing your hands or shooting up heroine.
I’m outnumbered, though, and that makes it all the more terrifying.
I breathe deeply, stand up and gesture toward them. “Hey, I have a funny video. Anyone want to see it?”
For all the contentious debate among them, each man looks toward the other for guidance in this simple decision. One man shrugs his shoulder, giving the group the go-ahead. Maybe it’s generational. Perhaps those raised in an era of front porches and social clubs don’t see anything odd about watching a short video with a stranger. Or maybe it’s Brenna. An eighteen month old can be pretty disarming.
We walk over to a clip of The Onion News Network. The men laugh collectively, on cue at each joke.
“That was funny. Thanks for sharing it,” a man says.
Another man pulls out a small pad of paper and writes down “watch videos from the onion on http://www.youtube.com.” I don’t have the heart to tell him that no one uses www. anymore. I sit down at the table and allow Brenna to listen to “Tree By the River.”
I’m jealous. I’m wishing I wasn’t so easily embarrassed to be myself in public.
* * *
It’s been years since I made a new friend. I’m very comfortable with my small circle of unwavering mutual admiration. However, in doing the Living Facebook Experiment, I’m realizing that “making friends” is something deep and profound that I’ve sort-of neglected as a result of family life and social media. I “meet” people on Twitter, for example, but I have very few people who truly know the unvarnished version of me.
So I call an acquaintance. I’m terrified. The phone slips from my sweaty palms. Truth is that I get this way every time I have to make a phone conversation. It could be my naturally introverted nature. Or maybe the years of being yelled at when working customer service.
“Is Tim there?” I ask.
“That’s me,” he says.
“Hey, this is John Spencer.”
“What’s up?” he asks.
“Well, I’m sending you a friend request. We’re pretty good acquaintances, but I think we should be friends.”
“I’ll accept that friend request and give you a thumbs up,” he explains.
We decide on a time to meet for a pint. Friendship is never that easy. I get that. It happens in layers. However, whether it’s the sense of relational isolation or the distance from community, I am beginning to see that the first real layer is fear. And it strikes me as odd that in doing something completely irrational (like Living Facebook), I am facing the greater irrational fear that has come to feel so normal to me.