Day #40: What Does It Mean to Connect?

A couple of years ago, I sought out my best friend from middle school.  We were two isolated geeks, spending our lunch time talking politics and music on the cold concrete benches of our junior high.  I was curious about his story and I wanted a sense of continuity in my own narrative.

I searched through Facebook, wondering if I would come across as an old friend or a creepy cyber-stalker.  We reconnected.  He shared his thoughts on Jose Gonzalez and I shared my opinions on Sufjan Stevens.  It wasn’t awkward, but it wasn’t a profound reunion, either.  Then, in typical Facebook fashion, he slowly disappeared from my “relevant” news feed.  The algorithm had decided what I had suspected intuitively: that it was nice to reconnect, but we would quickly go slide away again.

My friend Grant found me on Facebook.  “Found” is one of the few terms that Facebook gets right.  I hadn’t even realized that I’d been playing a very adolescent game of hide and seek.  However, after a strange falling out in high school, we spent almost a decade in silence, it felt like a gift when I was found.  And as Grant and his fiance sat in our living room, I realized that time and space and even games of hide and seek can’t poison friendship.

Friendship isn’t a tree that grows.  It’s not something that requires deep watering.  It’s a wild grass that doesn’t die even when it grows dormant.  It doesn’t have roots.  It has rhizomes, reminding us that we are interconnected through a shared story.

Christy is better at reconnecting through Facebook.  Perhaps it’s her personality.  Or maybe it’s the geographic benefit of spending a lifetimes in one city.  Whatever it is, she has met with former childhood and high school friends numerous times.

*     *     *

The term “desert” conjures up images of emptiness and solitude. It’s where you go to get lost. Uninviting. Spiky plants. Animal skulls. Lifeless. A great place for a Messiah to fast. For me, though, the desert is a place of beauty. Forests can feel crowded, suffocating beauty with a noisy positive space. But the desert has a minimalist beauty – a sense of negative space, a purity, a solitude, a place for perspective.

It might be an act of sacrilege to zip through the desert, fueled by a combustable engine. But right now I’m drawn toward the beauty of place and space and distance and everything else that my digital world cannot offer.

People. Places. Things.

Right now, it’s impossible right now to see a “friend” as a verb.  It is.  It exists.  A rhizome.

*      *     *

I’m nervous about visiting Dustin and Katie, because I don’t want them to feel used. I don’t want them to think they are a gimmick for a blog post. Instead, I want to include Dustin, because he is the only long distance friend who has ever made a conscious effort to remain connected despite the distance.

A few years back, they lived in Portland. We both got busy and I sort-of assumed the friendship had died, not out of malice, but from apathy.  One afternoon, while sorting through bills and colorful coupons and deceitful letters promising free cash, I saw a humble envelope written with a human hand.  Inside, Dustin had written a letter affirming who I was and how much he had valued our coffee-fueled conversations.

Dustin is that kind of a guy.  He’s thoughtful.  He’s intentional.  He knows what it means to value people over place or things or even the most pressing verbs.  The danger in social media is that we still feel connected despite the geographic space.  I read his status updates.  I occasionally comment on his blogs.  But we aren’t connecting.  Not really.  And I’m struck by the notion that a two hour drive is a small cost for a friendship that means the world to me.

As I drive to their home, I recognize that I haven’t planned this out.  This isn’t like Facebook.  There is no guarantee that they’ll be home.  I knock on the door and wait.  I knock again and wait.

I drive toward the hotel recognizing one of the real barriers toward deeper friendships: my lack of planning.  See, Facebook makes it easy.  Just click a button.  Post a comment.  Bam.  Friends are connected.  Right now, though, my complete lack of foresight and organization have prevented me from connecting with a close friend.

So, where do I go from here?  I could keep my distance.  I could write it off with a “that’s too bad.”  But I don’t want to.  Forget about Living Facebook for a moment.  I still want to reconnect with them.  I’ll just have to plan.  I’ll make some phone calls.  I’ll work out of an area of weakness (logistical thinking) because if the desert can convince me anything it’s that there is a very real minimalist beauty in a close band of friends with whom I will feel loyal to for a lifetime.

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