Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot?

Today (and I suppose it is now technically "yesterday," though I still count it "today" since I haven't yet gone to bed and put an end on the day that is December 31, 2013) I attended the funeral of a man I hardly knew, but whose wife and daughters I once knew quite well.  Over the years we have seen each other only sporadically, but it was an honor and a privilege to gather with them and their family and friends as they grieve the Christmastime death of their husband, father, son, coworker, and friend.

In an age of Facebook, one can have many "friends" who aren't really friends at all, in the traditional sense of the word.  In fact, I would venture so far as to say that Facebook, and other social media like it, have changed the way we think of friendship.  First (but not foremost!) "friend" is now a verb, not to be confused at all with "befriend," which requires some real effort and work.  Those who would have once been considered "acquaintances" (i.e. someone you're acquainted with or someone you know) are now considered "friends" on Facebook.  Intimate details about peoples' lives, shared publicly, keep us somehow connected to those whom we never see in person.  Our natural connection to them long past, we still stay (passively) involved in their lives by catching an occasional update on a screen.  Whether this is good or bad is debatable (and often hotly debated!), but the fact remains that it is true.

I watch the children of cousins I've never met, grow up via Facebook.  (And I often have "news" of them before my mother does, who is quite close to her siblings (their parents) in the traditional ways.  She will consider herself quite "current" and "modern"--and so she is, when compared to many of her contemporaries who refuse even to get on the computer!--when a picture of a grand-niece arrives via email; she then forwards me a photo that I saw three days ago on Facebook.)

I see the children of friends I knew many years ago grow up and go away to school, then graduate, and settle into vocations, and get married, and have children of their own, even though I haven't actually seen them in person since they were in elementary school.  I run into them by some happenstance and immediately speak of their lives as if I'm actually involved with them...and no one thinks this strange, this fact that would have made me a weirdo-stalker-person just ten years ago.

In fact, what is considered strange these days--what is rare and bizarre in the world of Facebook "friend suggestions" and "people you may know"--is to run into someone you once knew quite well whom you haven't even thought of in about twenty years.  This happened to me today at the funeral, and I was struck by the novelty of it...the strangeness.  I saw her across the room, this woman-from-church-twenty-years-ago whose husband I had prayed for for years (literally!), and I struggled through the dust-covered boxes of my brain to come up with her name.  ("It's 'Angela,' I think.")  The husband's name (he whose spiritual salvation I had prayed for hundreds of times!) came more slowly, but the "S" eventually lengthened into "Steve" in the cobwebs of my mind.  If my life had depended upon coming up with their last name, I wouldn't have been able to do it.  I approached she-whose-name-I-was-pretty-sure-was-Angela from across the room and struck up a conversation.  Her son, elementary age when I knew him, is now 25!  It was wonderful to see her, but it would have been strange to be too chatty and happy to see each other in the context of a funeral reception.

"Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind"?  No, I say!  And, thanks to Facebook, they don't have to be.  I just sent her a friend request this morning...

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