It’s that time of year; when I go out to feed the horses at 7 AM and don’t return to the house until three hours later. I always somehow manage to get sidetracked doing something in the gardens, which right now means dead-heading all the daylilies. Yes, it’s a tedious and sometimes daunting task, but the reward is that I never have to look at unsightly mushy blobs that were yesterday’s beautiful blooms. I love my daylilies. Dead-heading aside, they require little to no work and provide a good month or so of gorgeous flowers in return. They seem to thrive in my region and I have to be careful that they don’t end up spreading into places were I don’t want them to grow. But for the most part I’ve tried to start them where it doesn’t matter if they get a little pushy and I’ve been rewarded with an abundance of beauty. Daylilies were one of the first perennials I planted when I first started gardening on my farm and they’re like an old friend that visits every June or July.
As I was weeding this morning I got thinking about friends and what the word friend actually means. Since Facebook hit the Internet the word friend has grown to mean something entirely different than what it used to mean. On FB, anyone you know, both casually or intimately, is your “friend.” And while FB has tried to allow members to categorize their friends by lumping them into groups that have an assortment of different privileges, it still tries to encourage members to think of everyone you “friend” as, well … your friend.
But we’re not, are we? Friends, that is. Often we’re just acquaintances, work associates, friends of friends and family, and extended family. Occasionally we’ll “friend” a true friend, but often we find it rather unnecessary to “friend” our good friends because good friends are already in touch with what’s going on in our lives and they don’t need an Internet connection to communicate with us. However, that’s not what FB wants us to believe. FB thrives on convincing us we need to know the minutia of everyone’s day; what they think, what they do, where they go, what they eat. Some people even say goodnight to their list of friends on FB!
It’s with a certain amount of embarrassment that I will admit I’ve been fooled into thinking that some of my FB friends are really my friends. Having left home in my late teens, I fell out of contact with most of the kids I once knew. I don’t think that’s particularly unusual, it’s just part and parcel of having gone off and made a life somewhere else. Through the years I returned home to visit family, but I rarely had enough time to see them, little own time to look up my old high school pals. Perhaps that sounds like a lame excuse, but it’s the truth. I was busy and always pressed for time when I made the rare road trip home. And by the way, the stay-in-touch door swings both ways: nobody ever tried to stay in contact with me, either.
When FB came along I was able, after all these years, to re-connect with some of my old friends from home. Most of them were happy to exchange some basic, bring-me-up-to-date info, but beyond that we often found we didn’t have much else in common. It was awfully hard to breathe life into a friendship that’s been dormant for some 35+ years, though initially it was fun to see current pictures and to fill in the blanks for spouses, children and even grandchildren. But beyond the initial excitement of “Oh. My. God! How ARE you?” there’s very little of substance to talk about.
What got me thinking about all this recently is that one of my old high school friends who is also one of my FB friends went home for a reunion of sorts. I’m sure plenty of people do something similar. For example, my brother does an annual gathering with a handful of his old college friends. Anyhow, this gathering is just a bunch of friends who started an annual tradition they’ve decided to call the Old Farts party. Ironically, if I lived closer to home I’d probably go, since I knew several of these people when I was young, but since I live a few states away it’s unlikely I’ll ever attend. When my friend got back home he posted a bunch of pictures on FB, which I got a kick out of seeing. Only problem was, I couldn’t identify several of the people in the photos. I asked if someone could please ID the people in the pictures, to which I got the following reply: “God, if you don’t know them, you never did. No ones changed enough so you don’t recognize them”
Let’s face it, it’s been over three and a half decades since I’ve laid eyes on most of that gang and trust me, they’ve changed! One girl, who I remember being a long-haired, petite, pixie, looks to weigh well over 200 pounds. In fact, on the average, most of the women appear to have added anywhere from 50-100 pounds to their frames. And the men didn’t fare much better. Many had beer guts and some were sporting short, white hair and had added or lost facial hair. Given that I grew up in the 60′s and 70′s when beards and ponytails were the norm on many guys, it’s a little hard to identify them by the way the look now. In fact, I’d venture to guess anyone who thinks it’s easy to see past the years hasn’t been to their high school reunion in the last 30 years.
But mostly I was stung by my friend’s words because he was one of the few people I DID look up all those years ago. Maybe you forgot, Steve, that I tracked your ass down and called you when I was home visiting my family. I’m the one who nailed down a time to come to your apartment and see you. I’m the one who took the plunge, the risk, to visit. And yeah, it was a little awkward at first because yes, it had been a long, LONG time. But the longer we talked the more the years melted away, and a few hours later when I left I was glad I’d made the effort. And I think you were glad I did too. Because twenty-some years prior we’d been inseparable friends. We saw each other daily and we went through some of the toughest years of our teens together. I was there when your long-term girlfriend dumped your ass and you were my rock when Tim died. You told me once, during one of our many marathon phone conversations, that you never felt handicapped when I was around. I never thought you were. But no matter how much you change I’ll always recognize you, Steve. It’s pretty hard not to notice the missing hand.
My friend’s words made me realize that our definition of a friend changes as we age. The people we share our formative years with often fall off our radar screen once we grow up and move away. Steve was right; I would have recognized the people at the reunion if I’d stayed in touch with them all these years, but I didn’t. And neither did they. So I’d venture to guess not Steve or any of that crowd would recognize me if I passed them on the street today, yet I bet most of them would remember my name and wonder what happened to the long-haired, introverted girl who dated Tim O’Connor.
FB might help you reconnect with old friends, but the Internet isn’t a substitute for a real time friendship.