Sometimes life can be a roller coaster. We careen from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, sometimes within the same day. We embrace optimism and then despair over something small. We see the good in people, the small moments that make us believe in the future and give us joy and then we sometimes turn on a dime, becoming annoyed when behind the wheel of a car, overreacting to a bad driver. Where is the middle and why aren’t we able to find it, despite having so many real (and virtual) friends available at the click of a keyboard to offer advice or suggestions?
We’re living at a time when we’re all more connected – at least digitally – than ever before, when we can express our thoughts and fears, our hopes and our pains, our triumphs and our minutiae to any and all who will read our tweets or follow our Facebook postings or look at our Instagram shots. But despite that connection, why are so many of us so isolated, so lonely, so accepting of another person’s company only through their words on your screen or their thoughts texted to your phone? Why can’t we find that comfortable middle ground?
For almost my entire life, I lived with other people. A happy family life growing up with two wonderful parents and two great sisters. I wasn’t interested in going to college far away so I chose a great local college and commuted back and forth, between home and the campus of this tiny school, every day for four years. I went from my parents’ home to living with my husband after we married, and then joyfully (after many years of heartbreaking results) welcoming my great kid.
And then my marriage fell apart and my great kid and I moved on to our cozy little place we’ve called home now for 15 years. We had a great life because not only do we love each other but we enjoy each others company. As film fanatics, we saw many movies together, traveled to the happiest place on earth, spent time with friends and family and enjoyed our time together.
But as much as I love where I live, it was not part of my great kid’s future and he decided to go to college nearly 2,500 miles away from home. So about a year ago, after much weeping and promising to talk every day, he flew the nest and headed to his new adventure. And that was the first day in my entire life that I had lived alone.
Being on my own was – and is – hard for me. It’s easy, so easy to stay here in my house and not venture out. To turn down invitations because it involves too much effort or I don’t feel like going there on my own. And it becomes an endless circle of should I stay or should I go?
Fortunately, I can stay connected with people I know and love (and some virtual friends I’ve never met in person) via social media and texts and e-mails and phone calls and that helps ease the loneliness some. And I don’t want to sound like I’m unhappy with being alone; it’s just that it’s taken some getting used to and I’m not sure I’m there yet.
So I’d never advocate abandoning this new era of connectivity we all share these days because it has brought me such joy in so many ways. To reconnect with girls I knew in high school and to become real friends with them, some of whom I never even exchanged words with during our four years together, is a blessing I cannot express enough. To be able to see my great kid through a video chat while he’s across the country at college is a gift that not only makes his absence easier to bear but reminds me that our parents didn’t have that luxury when we went away to school or moved with our spouse to another part of the country. I can see him even when he’s so very far away, being given the chance to say “good night” or comfort him when he’s having a bad time at school or share my day with him or tell him how proud I am of him.
But – and to me this is a very big “but” – our connectivity via social media sometimes makes us forget that nothing can replace a face-to-face lunch with a friend, or being able to hug someone you love when you’re sad, or looking into the eyes of someone you care about, or receiving a handwritten letter unexpectedly from someone in your past. After all, being with someone, truly being with someone means that all five of your senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch – can be truly engaged. The experience of being there, being present, being in the moment is an opportunity we sometimes forget but it is one we should not forgo; we should be more greedy for it. Life is too short to spend it behind the screen of a computer, living in a digital cocoon that doesn’t require us to embrace the intimacy that can only come from spending time with a friend, a lover, a parent, a child. But doing so requires action, real action on our parts. Yes, we’re all tired after a long day at work or a stressful commute or the endless stack of laundry to fold when we come home. And sometimes we’re emotionally tired from struggling to care for a parent, or dealing with our own frailties, or figuring out how to make our paycheck last until the next one arrives, or watching the ever-increasingly bad news we’re bombarded with every day.
But what I’ve learned, what I’ve tried to practice – even when it’s tough to do so – is that getting out and being among the madding crowd, being part of the daily dialogue, even being part of the daily traffic flow, makes us more connected in a much more real way than being satisfied with the virtual world that our fingertips connect us to.
So be present. Be in the moment. Be here. Be now. Life is short. Go out and live it.