Our house took a direct hit from lightening last Saturday. I suppose that’s appropriate, since it ushered in the National Weather Service’s Lightening Safety Awareness Week 2014. After sharing the news with friends (both the Real Life kind and on Facebook), and doing a bit of research, I’ve learned that the probability of your house being struck by lightening is 1 out of 200. That certainly eliminates the rarity factor.
Given our current living situation (in a tin can on rubber wheels), which feeds my worries about what might happen if an electrostatic discharge from the heavens struck Mabel the Fifth Wheel, I rationalize that as long as we’re not one of the almost 50 people in the US who are killed by lightening each year, a lightening strike carries a more mundane reality these days. What that 30,000 amp bolt can do is fry your Internet connection, wiping out all of the seemingly quotidian methods of communication we take for granted.
It’s not only an inconvenience. The loss of easy access to the Internet gets expensive, in terms of dollars spent to fix the problem. It’s a bummer to have to buy a new computer, as did one friend. We purchased a new modem and router, and I ended up with eight half gallons of one percent milk in the refrigerator, because, unaccustomed to not having instant computer access, I forgot to do the weekly bottle count, and never changed the online milk delivery order.
Hard money losses aside, the true casualty is the loss of our independence; it comes with the discovery that we are irretrievably tied to the rest of the world through the Internet. It’s not simply a pick up the phone and call your neglected Grandma type of situation. It’s how we let others know what is happening in our lives, and what important information is lost when we go off the grid. While I could tag team on my iPhone and create a Personal Hotspot, Dr. K, Isabelle and I quickly burned through our account limits. And I soon discovered that you cannot be on the Internet and have a meaningful conversation on your phone at the same time. When hitching a ride on a Personal Hotspot, you can only do one or the other. But what I mainly learned through that loss is that meaningful conversations carry more weight than the posts people put on Facebook.
It’s all about what people are not telling you.
What I’ve learned over these past five days of disconnect is that what people post on Facebook, or what they share in an email or text, just isn’t enough. It’s not the real thing.
It came to light in a Facebook post I read last week, one from a friend (who I actually do talk to IN PERSON once in awhile, although he’s quite busy and those occasions are rare), because there was so much in his post that he was not saying. The post went like this:
FRIEND: Likes France
That was it. Then friends of friends pumped him for more information (because usually he is much more verbose), and we all subsequently learned that although he DID Like France, he only liked it to the limited extent that it was fine, except that he had been pick pocketed, and this unpleasant experience had marked the entire excursion in France enough that he wasn’t motivated to note that he Liked France until the time when he returned home, safe and sound. But what he posted on Facebook left out the entire story. He said it was because he didn’t want to bore people with negativity, but once pressed for more, he told all. It was received as one might expect, with sympathy, with stories of similar experiences, and psychological musings on why these things happen. It took the extra effort of others delving into the underlying facts of his post to arrive at that point, however.
It’s kind of like the posts my son Harrison puts up on Facebook these days.
We stuck Harrison on an airplane to Virginia on Mother’s Day, along with a large cardboard box containing his bicycle, and a duffle bag weighing in at 35 pounds. That included his bike helmet.
He was connecting with a college friend, and the two were joining a group called Bike & Build, riding across the United States, all 3592 miles of it. They would dip their rear wheels in the Atlantic, and then ten weeks later, dip their worn-and-weary front tires in the Pacific Ocean in San Diego. Harrison matriculates into medical school the end of July; his friend begins law school around the same time. It’s their last hurrah as college students, and I was going to roll with it.
EXCEPT. I’m used to talking to Harrison a bit more.
Harrison: I just finished my Biochemistry test. My life sucks.
Emily: I’m sure you did fine.
Harrison: No. I flunked it.
Emily: Just wait and see. Tell me what you think went wrong.
So I’m accustomed to discussing his feelings after taking tests. We talk about how well (or poorly) he ran a race. While he lived with us for the last year, between college and grad school, we talked about everything under the sun, including how the world worked, or didn’t.
Now all he posts are pictures.
There are pictures of happy, smiling people hoisting their (15 pound) bicycles up over their heads. There are pictures of happy, smiling people crossing state lines. There are pictures of Harrison jumping (scantily clad) off bridges into rivers, and pictures of him engaging in various activities that are somewhat questionable in their legality, like the one of him inching up a sundial’s gnomon, the narrow shaft which casts a shadow on the dial’s face, telling time. I guess that’s what people normally do on their birthdays.
It’s great to see that he’s engaging in a worthwhile activity. He’s making life long friends, something that can happen when you spend so much time with others, working hard, putting in pedal effort, helping build affordable homes for those in need. Their days vary, with rides as short as 50 milers, and often over 100. I know they need to blow off steam and relax. I’d just like to know more. Who are these people he is sharing his life with over these ten weeks? What are their names, wishes, plans for the future?
Students go off and study abroad for months at a time. People in the military are stationed far from home, often in foreign countries, away from the familiar. They are not permitted to disclose much personal information.
There are many times when we find ourselves off the information grid, and in those gaps, we leave the world behind. Sometimes we go off the grid because of where life takes us; at others our houses are struck by lightening, or we are uncertain if the daily life we post on Facebook will disclose too much about ourselves, if what we share might allow others to see the chinks in our armor.
But it is what we do not choose to share in those gaps of information that humanizes us. It’s up to us, as caring people, to ask the questions that close the gaps, to fill in the blanks, and to make sense of the stories of our friend’s lives.
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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished, https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @. Life inspired. Vodka tempered.