“I have a bone to pick with you,” Mom said as soon as I opened the door. I took the letter she held in her hands and froze. It was from Mike, my top-secret pen pal, a U.S Marine fighting in Viet Nam. I’d responded several months earlier to an agency requesting letters to soldiers. Mike D. had received my first missive and a passionate and intellectual relationship had been born. I’d managed to retrieve these weekly letters before mom got to the mail, but now the evidence of misbehavior was in her hands.
“Linda does this soldier know that you are 13 years old?” By this time, my parents were alcoholics and I, the oldest in a family of 6 children, was overweight, friendless, and (in my own mind) too cool for school. I only wanted to be known for myself.
But this isn’t about that strange time I stepped away from my sad life situation and into a dream of my choosing (or the nightmare my pen pal was describing). This is about bone-picking and what, at its worst, it does to us.
I’m talking about Facebook, that great connector of people. Since I moved away from my home state years ago, I have been able to keep track of school friends of the past, my family of origin, my adult children and their spouses, my old colleagues and bosses, and even their friends. What is disturbing me more than ever, after the severely contentious elections of 2016, is how readily we are prepared to argue politics, it seems, almost to the death of those who are in some way part of us. I speak metaphorically, but still. Facebook, something must be done here, and we are the only ones able to do it.
I am not denying the vast (?) significance of a thoughtful opinion piece on either side, or a photo of someone wearing an RBG T-shirt or a red hat. I will laugh at many cartoons. Here, I’m not referring to a polite interjection or a well-considered contra-statement based on a careful reading of a political post. I’m talking about the careless devolution to electronic shouting matches, sometimes punctuated with multiple exclamation points. I’m talking about time-worn “blaming” responses and intimations that the other person – often a friend, or a friend of a friend, or even a relative - is an idiot for a belief, however well or poorly expressed. (I am also tired, with due respect to my conservative friends and family, of the hostile ground upon which some of them have dragged the word “Patriot.” But I digress).
We are a very young country, but 243 years old. Compare this to the ancient histories of the world nations, and we’ve done well on so many marks. Still, I wonder about our evolution as Americans. As in, doing our part in terms of supporting the evolution of the species. Preserving that part of us able to create beauty, establish the bones of eternal structures that stand through time eternal, as nature itself has done through endless iterations of itself.
What if we cast aside the selfishness that cares too little about future selves and worlds? What if, instead of merely tolerating the fact of our bones weakening through time, we made up for our litany of losses through building timeless character?
Educating ourselves through reflection of all that made us who we are, good and less so, as if that focus were the most important book we’d ever read, could do us all a world of good. And what if we behaved as if those around us, albeit perhaps geographically distant, truly mattered?
One of my dearest long-time friends died in Chicago a couple weeks ago. I didn’t see Mark often, but when younger, we were each part of our respective families’ lives. He was a good person, a little older than I am now, but not much. His wife and I are also close, particularly in the sense of our deep history together. Two thousand miles away, I feel the way my whole life-landscape has changed with Mark’s death. I don’t know precisely where he and I agreed on various topics and where we didn’t, but he was my faithful friend, part of my extended family, and he is missed. In the end, it turns out that people and kindness and relationship matter more than anything.
What is worth arguing about on a platform like Facebook, that could be friendly, and help us bridge gaps in our lives that are too complex for us to even name, or manage alone?
This is Facebook, after all, and someday we will ALL be bones or mere fragments. I’m taking our lives seriously here and I hope you do, too.