This is probably my last post before I start family festivities for Christmas. It’s probably one of my last posts of 2011, in fact. I have been thinking about how I would use this occasion. Many people are using this week to reflect on 2011 and thank people who have been meaningful to them.
I was skimming my shiny new Facebook timeline last night and noticed that I had become Facebook friends with a lot of people just a year ago. Some people I now consider better than sliced bread I have only known for five months, really. It seems impossible that I have know so many wonderful people for so short a time. How could I possibly include everyone and not leave out anyone important? Too many people have shown me endless and overpowering support. Too many people have made me smile when I was frowny. Too many people have made me look at life and other things in new ways. I can’t possibly grasp them all in one post.
All of that being said, there are two people I want to thank who changed my life in very big, very different ways in 2011, especially as it pertains to this online portion of my life. Unfortunately, neither of them are still here with us, but if they are floating around in the ether, I hope they get wind of this message. More importantly, I hope that the lessons these two men taught me can be filtered through me and end up helping you.
The lesson Trey taught me, or reminded me of, is very simply stated. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. From the very early times of my online life, I heard great things about Trey. I heard tales of his amazing ability to tell stories. I heard what a warm and genuine guy he was. In fact, I don’t recall anyone ever saying anything mean to him. For all of that, I never quite got to the point of interacting with him but for one time. I had written some post – I have no idea what, and whether Trey tweeted it or not, I got a direct message from him shortly thereafter asking me to read a post of his. This one, about Toy Story. I thought, “Man, that’s crazy. This guy that everyone admires wants MY opinion about HIS post?”
On a regular basis I would say to myself, “I really need to start talking to this guy. I really need to make a point of reading his posts.” But you know how life is. You put a million things on your “Must do” list and every day the list gets longer, not shorter. In early September, I found out that Trey had taken his own life. All of my “I need to do that” reminders hadn’t done me a bit of good. My best of intentions had not translated into any kind of action. It’s not a woe is me tale, certainly. I feel for the people who knew and loved the man, especially at this time of year. But for me, it was a reminder that even though we see people every day in the online world, even though it seems like they are just the same every day because of their unflinching avatars and gravatars and profile pictures, we are never guaranteed tomorrow.
Since then, I have done my best to reach out immediately to people I want to get to know better. If things don’t work out and they end up being poopy (my favorite word) then that’s okay. At least I tried to get to know them. At least I pounced on the opportunity. Trey Pennington, through all the tragedy of his death and his last few weeks of life, still managed to teach one more profound lesson.
Bruce taught me a very different lesson. Bruce taught me that just because you DO talk to someone online every day does not mean you know the whole story. I saw Bruce’s avatar every time I posted a blog post. He chatted with me often. Always kind, always nice. But I had no idea he was unemployed. I had no idea he was having so many problems. I certainly had no idea he had abandoned all hope and had broken as a person.
Bruce has taught me that one must not take online friendships for granted. Talking to someone in a two-dimensional screened-in environment does not reveal a person’s soul to you, most of the time. You need to dig. You need to be willing to explore a little. You need to be willing to try to nudge a few doors open and see if they stay open or slam close. I wish I had known that. I wish I had noticed that Bruce had gone a month without posting to his site. I wish I had noticed that the last blog post he wrote was pretty angry and cynical. I would have asked him what was up, perhaps. But for all of that talking, I didn’t know him enough to know that he was in trouble.
I have learned that lesson in a way I’d have preferred never to have learned it. But it is one I will not forget. So thank you Bruce, for reminding me that truly getting to know people is a perpetual act of care and work. It is not for the lazy and there are no shortcuts.
All that I have learned from these two men I hope to use as I nurture our relationships, whatever those may be. So as we head into the holiday season and the new year, I want you to know that if I say I care, or respect you, or admire you, I really do. And if I say I’m worried about you, it’s because I want you to know that I don’t want you to slip away. And if I say hi, it’s because I really want to get to know you.
And with that, I wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukah, a Joyous Kwanzaa, and if I don’t see you till next year…a Happy and prosperous 2012.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/49889874@N05/6042029343/ via Creative Commons