A couple of days ago, a woman I know only because we follow each other on Instagram, had a baby. This is her second – she now has two boys which of course I think is great because I also have two boys – and I also remember when she had her first son, almost three years ago now. Time flies! She and baby boy seem to be doing well, and he is the loveliest, chubbiest little fellow. My heart is so happy for her and her sweet family.
Early yesterday morning, another woman I know posted a photo of herself heading into the hospital to have her second baby. This woman I actually know IRL; her grandmother and her great-aunt were good friends of my parents back in the day, and so we’ve chatted and interacted over the years, and now she and her family live across the street from me. Small world! And, not only that but when I was around 14 years old, I attended a baby shower when she was born. Which is…weird, yeah? I held her when she was a few months old and now she is a grown woman with a successful business and a family of her own.
Which, ok duh, yes, that is indeed how time and life work, but there is a very visceral part of me that kneejerkingly wants to react with “Oh my god, I’m so old!” But there is another part of me that says “Oh wow, this is keeping me so young.”
And then I started thinking about community and about belonging.
When John and Charles and I moved to this house in the fall of 1999, we were, clearly, a young family, just starting our lives together. Charles was not even two, Max, not yet even conceived. We had hoped to add another baby to our lives and when Max arrived in July 2000, our family was complete and we began to fully settle into our home and neighbourhood. Eventually, the boys went to school, we met neighbours who became friends and we met neighbours who we knew only to say hello to. There were neighbours who moved in and stayed for a time then left, and neighbours who were there before we got here and are still here.
And as we’ve aged and our children have grown up in this neighbourhood, a funny thing happened. It seems as though, now, we are the old people. I know, right? But, at 52 (me) and 53 (John), and having lived in the same house for nearly 20 years, it’s honestly true. And I kind of love it.
I love sharing in a community of people who are at different stages of life; like the older couple behind us who were here the day we moved in, and are still living in that same house behind us. Like the family two doors down who moved in back in February and just had a baby (hooray neighbourhood babies!) I love that nearly 19 years ago we were the ones introducing a new baby to the neighbourhood and now, going forward, we get to be the ones to do the welcoming, to introduce ourselves to the families with the tiny new additions. To look out for them and their kids, like our neighbours did and continue to do for us and our kids.
And that is our community, our physical community. And I love it. But what about the other community, the online community, the one created through follows, and the friends I’ve met through social media? Where does that fit? Does it fit? My argument is that it does. Of course, it does.
And yes, some would insist that these people, these online people cannot actually be my friends since I don’t actually know them, and to those people, I say, whatevs and also shhhhh, let people enjoy things. Because it’s 2019.
I have engaged with people online who I have not met, who I might never meet, but my heart has broken for them when they tell me/their followers that their mother is terminally ill, or that their child is being bullied. I have celebrated the births of their children and mourned the loss of their parents, their beloved pets. I have reached out to these people sometimes on their timeline or feed, but more often in a private message (should they welcome private messages) because I wanted to offer condolences or congratulations or support not in a performative way, but in a heartfelt way. This isn’t to say that all posts on timelines and feeds are performative, but much like a handwritten thank you or sympathy card from days of old, a direct message seems more personal, more thoughtful. We see a lot of “thoughts and prayers” in the media, from politicians and celebrities and regular people and the entire meaning of that phrase has been lost in the noise of the online world. Many people lament the loss of human interaction in favour of this online world, but I am not one of those people. I think if you are deliberate in your intentions and your wishes for your online friends truly come from a place of caring, a Twitter dm can be as effective and welcomed as a letter.
When Max was in hospital last fall, people I had never met, people who follow me on Instagram or Twitter for my dog or my wine and library-related antics (which are truly legendary it must be said) reached out to tell me how much my updates meant to them, how hard they were pulling for Max and for us, and how much they wished they could help. Many of these messages began, “You don’t know me, but I follow you and I want you to know I am thinking of you and your family…” and others read “Thank you for sharing and for being so open…” and honestly, some of these messages moved me as much or more than ones from close family members. Some had had similar experiences and offered an ear if I had questions. Others just wanted to send a virtual hug and a kind word. And it was lovely and it was overwhelming.
“People are too nice!” I would say, almost daily, to my husband, usually through my hiccuping tears in the midst of an ugly crying session. The thought of (virtual) strangers taking the time to send their support, their prayers, and good vibes was astounding to me. And at the same time not astounding to me, because it’s the sort of thing I do too.
It makes me so happy to be the old person in the neighbourhood now, the one that has been here “forever” as my kids would say, and I’m just as happy to be the old person on your Instagram feed encouraging you and supporting you and feeling for you too. I want to read about your struggles with getting your toddler to eat or getting your dad to go to the doctor about that mole on his leg. I can even offer advice if you want it (I would never give unsolicited advice of course) too! Please do keep in mind that my parenting skills were honed in the early to mid-2000s and any advice I have to offer is likely highly out of date, but it’s yours if you want it. And it will come with a warm internet hug and a LOT of encouragement that you are already doing amazing. Just keep going.
And, as I said way up there at the beginning of this post, being involved in this kind of community keeps me young. Not in a “How do you do, fellow kids?” kind of way, but, much like living in a neighbourhood with families and seniors and more, having a varied internet community allows me to witness life unfolding in so many different ways, and at so many different points in time, and that can only be a good thing. It is such a privilege to be able to share in the experiences and milestones of my social media friends and their families. At times it’s heartbreaking and at other times it’s glorious and wonderful. You know, just like life.
Community is community is community. And I know the internet can be a dark, dark pit of despair, but I’m not willing to give up on it just yet. There’s so much more I want to be a part of. And I like all of you too much, too.