Blame my wife…it’s all her fault.
A few weeks ago, she joined Facebook: the web application that lets you connect with friends on the Net and make new ones. I kept noticing how (more than she normally was) she was laughing, crying out “Oh My God! I haven’t seen her in years!”, and starting up a new city called Polyannaville on a game called Metropolis (where you run a city, control its economy and infrastructure…name it). She was being more obsessive on the Mac than normal, and one day just before Christmas she convinced me to join as well. Oh boy, bad mistake Mrs Walsh…your husband with the addictive personality (remember?) is now declaring himself addicted hook, line, and sinker to Facebook.
In the past month, I have managed to reconnect with five guys who I went to High School with, all of whom except one I haven’t seen since the day we graduated. A guy I grew up with in Staten Island who shared the other side of our duplex got in touch we me about a month ago; that was the first time we had been in touch since 1978 when he moved to Pennsylvania. I’ve also just gotten in touch with one of three brothers who were my best friends growing up before they moved to Switzerland back in 1970. I’ve added current friends and relatives…including my wife, who constantly sends me virtual pieces of “flair”. (Flair is pretty much funny of slogans and/or illustrations on virtual buttons.) I get virtual kisses and hugs from her (more than I do in real life, I think), asked to join groups, clubs, and also receive virtual gifts (Brooklyn Egg Creams, Super Hero Villains, and Baseball paraphernalia for example). All this even has me using Skype again for the first time in many years, just so not only can I chat with old friends; they can see that I’ve aged gracefully. (Aw, who am I kidding? At least I still have a full head of hair!)
Last night, I got in touch with an old friend who is kind of in the same place as I am right now in my life. She just became a single mom; her kids are the roughly the same age as my youngest daughter; and there’s a lot going on in her life and we were both commiserating of how unexpected this place is we now find ourselves in. While the circumstances surrounding our mid-life shifting pathways are different, this much is certain: I think we both helped each other out today during our two hour and change conversation; I sure as hell know that she said a few things that I appreciated hearing about my own situation. It’s funny how when you reconnect with someone with whom you were very close friends with but for one reason or another got separated by time or distance, there’s always a tentative awkwardness when you first start out the conversation. You may have known someone for almost 30 years, but you search for words and tiptoe around others. Then the familiarity comes back, the words flow easily and without any barriers, and the next thing you know you’re talking like it’s Christmas Break 1980 and you’re hanging out at a basement party again. Then reality hits, and you both have to pick up your kids from school. (So much for the bong hits and “Tales From Topographic Oceans”, huh?)
Before I joined Facebook, I was starting to wonder about many of my old friends I haven’t kept up with anyway. Why I felt a sudden urge to reconnect with pieces of my past I cannot say; perhaps it’s because I’m turning 48 next month, or maybe I just feel a little more settled in now in my role as a stay at home dad and pursuing my calling of being a writer. Perhaps the Universe says it’s time, and for that I am eternally grateful. When my 3 friends moved to Switzerland when I was 10, I was completely shattered. The block on Staten Island where I grew up didn’t have many denizens of intellectual capability; even more so when you are young and intellectually gifted as we all were. When they left, I honestly did not have a friendship with anyone of like mind until I went to High School (I attended an all-boys Catholic High School run by Irish Christian Brothers). In the interim while I was in intellectually gifted classes in grammar school, I honed up my sense of humor…mostly as a defense mechanism…so by the time I got to High School and then College I was not only smart, but a smart ass as well. The unresolved nature of this friendship with these three brothers had bothered me for years; I would always talk about them with other friends I made through the years, but most especially with my wife who knows me best and could see why this meant a lot to me. We’re all trying to make plans to get our families together along with our parents who were also very close.
Likewise, catching up with a lot of my old High School buddies was a great thing. One of my friends (who I also worked busing tables in a restaurant) as it turns out is also a 9/11 Survivor. He is a broker and had his offices in Lower Manhattan at the time. We wound up chatting via Instant Message one night, when we started talking about that day and I just got to the point after about 5 minutes where I said, “Call me” and the phone rang 10 seconds later. We were on the line for well over two hours; although much of the subject matter was not a happy one. It was a connection made not only with an old friend, but with a fellow survivor…and I cannot possibly explain to you what means on an emotional level unless you are one yourself. There is a commonality among 9/11 Survivors ; a sense of pain and loss and grief; and although our stories are all unique, we share in the horror of that day. It is a terrible transcendence of being; and yet, you long to share and bond with other survivors. You compare notes, little details about what you saw and how you reacted, and most importantly how you dealt with if afterward. The latter point is where the true genesis of understanding is, because every single one of us dealt with the horror differently. It’s one of the reasons why I am working on the book about what happened to me on 9/11 and afterward; because not all of us can connect with each other and simply say to another survivor these words: “You are not alone.”
In a way, perhaps that is the real reason I feel a need for searching out and picking up the scattered fragments of my life; the need for some company, and old friend to say that I am not alone, and perhaps for me to return the favor as well. In the end, it really is about human beings having a need not to be alone, to form a connection on some level with another; be it friend, lover, or acquaintance. Many times it’s those old bonds that need to be reconnected and perhaps strengthened, because as one of the guys I just got back in touch with said to me, they actually became the foundation of the rest of your life. My friend with whom I spoke today was a very important part of my life in my early 20s; we had a lot in common then, and we sure as hell have a lot in common now particularly since we are both at a crossroads. We have both gotten to points in our lives where we never expected to be; never could have conceived what is happening now 25 years ago. But there we were today, talking on an extraordinarily warm and beautiful Northeast Winter Day pretty much saying 4 words…
You are not alone.
“When others cloud your vision, you have to take control. Accept a higher mission, live it heart and soul. Can’t exist on former glories, reputations fade so fast. Time to tell a different story, make it good and make it last.” – Martin Orford, from The Time And The Season