A few weeks ago, I wrote a short narrative about an encounter I had with one of my neighbors during my morning walk. I described the somewhat comforting effect that our very brief conversation had on me; helping me to realize that in the midst of the chaos that is our modern world, there are still folks who get together with old friends to socialize, to play games, to nourish their souls with the company of people for whom they care, and vice versa. This morning, I was dismayed to learn that my neighbor, the kind older lady who wears pastel-colored pant suits and goes to play Bridge with friends each week, is moving away.
I noticed a small Penske moving truck parked in front of that building a couple of days ago. I didn’t think much about it at the time and figured that the young married couple, the most “out of place” in our little community, were moving into a bigger place. Perhaps they’d finally saved enough to buy their first home. Perhaps they are expecting a baby and need more room. In a group of neighbors made up of mostly older women and me, they seemed the most likely to leave first. But, this morning, as I left to go grab some breakfast, I discovered that boxes, bins, and furniture were being moved out of … and that’s the funny part; I don’t even know her name. We’ve spoken dozens of times–mostly “hi’s” and “how are you’s”–and in all of those brief, but genuinely friendly encounters, I never bothered to properly introduce myself. Why?
At present, I have 260 “friends” on Facebook. I have 35 “followers” on my new, no-politics Twitter. 173 people follow me on Instagram, and almost 1,000 people follow this blog by some method or another. But, of all of those people, I regularly interact personally (not online) with maybe 10 of them, but I know more about the lives of those hundreds of people than I knew about my neighbor who has lived less than 100 feet away for the last three-and-a-half years. That makes me sad, and it makes me wonder how it all happened. (Just kidding. I actually know how it happened, but it makes for a better story this way.)
I’m about to embark on a social media detox for (at least) thirty days. No Facebook. No Twitter. No Instagram. I will keep writing in my blog because it’s not technically social media–there’s no interaction unless someone comments on a post, which rarely happens. One of my goals in this detox is breaking the habit of relying on the electronic virtual world for human interaction. During the detox I’m going to do my best to actually go places where other live human beings are and speak to them face-to-face. Hopefully, some stagnated friendships will be revitalized and renewed. Maybe some new friendships will be made.
What does that have to do with my neighbor? Well, nothing really. She’s gone now, and it’s not likely that I will ever get the chance to know anything more about her than that once a week she dons a pastel-colored pant suit, climbs in her little SUV, and goes to play Bridge with friends. Where is she going? Maybe her children and grandchildren decided it was time to move her closer to them so that they could help take care of her. Maybe she decided on her own to downsize into a smaller place that was easier to take care of. Maybe she’s going to live in an assisted living facility where there are professionals who can help her when she needs it. What will happen to her Bridge game? Will she still go once a week to play, or will she be too far away and will that part of her life be drawing to a close? Maybe she’ll find a new Bridge group to play with, and once a week they will set up the folding card table, cover it with a white linen tablecloth, and will drink coffee, eat cookies or finger sandwiches, and play Bridge and talk about their lives. Maybe, but I won’t really ever know.
I wish I knew her name, and that I’d taken the time to get to know her well enough that, on the day she moved away, I felt comfortable walking the short distance between our two apartments to bid her farewell. But, I didn’t, because I was “busy” and in a hurry to get back to the hundreds of people I interact with daily … electronically, virtually, knowing vast amounts about the parts of their lives that they choose to reveal, and allowing them to know the same about me.
And, at the end of the day, we “sign out” of each others lives until we’re ready to sign in and be friends again.