Thursday, July 17, 2014
Finding Friends - SUSAN HARRIS
I don't quite remember how I stumbled upon an online game site for Scrabble players but I was excited. Except for a game with someone -anyone- now and again, I had no one with whom I could consistently play.
I clicked the link and spent the better part of a day figuring out the "Rooms." I was paranoid about my safety so I spent an additional few days mustering the courage to invite someone to play. The first person suddenly became "too busy" to play after I won three consecutive games. Interestingly, I'd still see her name in other playing rooms. The second woman did not play often enough.
And then I found her. If anyone loved Scrabble as much as I did, or maybe more than I did, it was Amy. Winning or losing did not jar her. We played in the wee hours of the morning, me in the northern hemisphere, she in the southern. Until then, I had banked over the Internet, shopped from vendors online, and worked as a tutor through distance education, but I had never made a friend from online communication. In 2002, this all changed with Amy. Like a slowly meandering river, we moved from being Scrabble buddies only, to adding one-liners like, "Hi, how are you?" in our comment boxes. We were both cautious, two women crossing the equator while our little ones played at our feet.
Gradually the emails grew longer, and the post offices in Canada and Australia received parcels. Gifts for a mother and children whose faces the other had not seen. As trust grew, photos arrived and telephone operators connected international calls. Amy and I advised and gave advice, laughed and exclaimed. Neither of us was on Facebook yet.
It was a sweet, beautiful friendship, a constant as I wove my way in and out of towns, cities and people. I was wary of social media, a laggard of anything that required putting my information "out there." Suspicious. Guarded.
It wasn't until 2011, after my first book, Golden Apples in Silver Settings, was published, that I reluctantly joined Facebook and Twitter. It was purely a marketing move and the only photo was my profile picture. Another year would elapse before I posted anything significant, and when I did, it was in relation to my new books, Little Copper Pennies and Little Copper Pennies for Kids. By then I was comfortable with an online presence, and Amy and I connected on Facebook.
Facebook re-defined the term "friend," a definition I scoffed at when I first heard it. How could I be friends with people whom I had never laid eyes on and didn’t know their backgrounds? I repressed my doubts when I remembered Amy.
I've met the most wonderful and resourceful men and women through social media. I enter their lives and they visit mine. They're like ice cream cones on a hot summer day, leaving their sweetness and refreshing behind. As with good ice cream, though, a few nuts may be scattered throughout, and thus I continue to exercise caution.
My new friends advise on outfits and covers, send birthday wishes and encouraging messages. They share my books and blogs, and offer feedback. I am so much better because of the people I've come to know through social media. I've found them on every continent, and when I'm not on the Internet, I look up to the sky we share and remember that a star twinkles above them as it does over me. And I'm proud to call them "Friend."
I no longer play virtual Scrabble, but my online presence— and personal life — has broadened because of the individuals who have become real and valued allies as the ones I see in person.
On my wall is a quote: Your friend is the person who knows all about you and still likes you.
While I may not know everything about the people I've met via the Internet, I can infer about their personalities and character by the content of their posts, comments and photos. And they can do the same of me. Although I'm vigilant as to how I engage and interact on social media, in the past, I've put the proverbial foot in my mouth. A few times, in the heat of the moment, I've gone overboard and responded to a comment made by the friend of a friend, instead of keeping my focus on my immediate friend and the topic at hand. Or I may have been too blunt. Thankfully, these incidents are fewer and further apart, and may even be non-existent one day.
The old adage reminds that four things that will never come back are the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the lost opportunity. I'll add a fifth: the written word. I know now that words texted, typed, tweeted, posted, published, blogged, emailed, and downloaded cannot be taken back. The history and record lurks forever in a digital world of cyberspace and hard drives and software.
This knowledge helps me to be discretionary when communicating through that forum. I'm thankful for my friends and the joy of sharing their lives. I continue to watch out for the nuts, too, conscious of the need to remain safe. Meeting people and being Internet savvy require a mix of attention and intuition, something I'm mindful of anywhere that I am.
This article is published in July 2014 PAOC 'SAGE' Magazine. Copies can be ordered at https://paoc.org/canada/initiatives/sage.
(An excerpt from Remarkably Ordinary: 20 Reflections on living Intentionally Right Where You Are, Chapter 14, Finding Friends. ©Susan Harris 2014. New e-book available from any Amazon site. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JICVCQM
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BIO: Susan Harris is a speaker and former teacher, and the author of Remarkably Ordinary, Golden Apples in Silver Settings, Little Copper Pennies and Little Copper Pennies for Kids. Her publication, "Smokey's Lock-out" will appear in the August 2014 edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What? and her children's book, Alphabet on The Farm will be released in the fall of 2014 in both English and French. Susan was born in exotic Trinidad but now lives on the Saskatchewan prairies with her husband, daughter and the gregarious cats.
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