Sometimes life throws an unexpected gut-wrenching twist into your predictable routine, and like the first ice-cold blast of water shooting from the shower faucet – in that instant when your mind is cruelly jarred into alert panic, you realize the water heater is not working….
Then the dread creeps in, frozen fingers tickling your spine, as you contemplate how long you’ll survive without the comfort and convenience of warm water.
Freezing water is just the tip of the iceberg, pun poorly intended.
We take nearly everything in our lives for granted – the things which give us pleasure and amusement, the things which keep us safe and healthy, have all become such an integral part of our environment that we cannot imagine life without them.
We may romanticise life in Colonial America or Regency England, but I doubt whether any of us would survive one week in such primitive conditions, without having a nervous breakdown and subsequent re-evaluation of our priorities.
When we strip all the excess finery away, we’re left with humanity’s basic needs. One of those needs is companionship and social interaction with other human beings.
The greatest technological achievements of mankind were developed specifically to connect people to one another.
Transportation to bridge the gap between towns and families, telecommunication to send messages farther that people could easily travel, and the invention of various appliances meant to ease our workload – presumably so that we would have more time to socialize.
People need people.
Yes, it’s corny… and I cringed writing it, because I can just hear Barbra Streisand’s voice crooning in my head:
“…are the luck-i-est peee-ople…”
(Go ahead, I won’t tell… you know you want to sing it!)
But it’s the truth.
And sadly, people are one of the ‘things’ we tend to value the least.
We get short-tempered with the incompetence of our sales clerk or waitress.. and vise versa.
We belittle our spouses when gossiping with our co-workers… and vise versa.
We lose our patience with our children, our parents and in-laws, our supervisors and “The Man”… and sometimes even wish
We could escape from them all.
We desire a quiet island or mountain-top, to sit and meditate, to commune with our own thoughts.. a place free from those blasted people who dare intrude into our lives and demand our attention.
However ignoring people comes with a heavy price. When you shut people out, it’s like turning off the hot water heater.
You don’t notice anything has changed, until… you turn on the faucet to take a shower.
Then it hits you, the icy frigid water, the lack of heat…
The lack of human company.
Suddenly everyone is… gone.
I lost a friend over the weekend, someone very special to many of us, but unfortunately I can’t say I knew him as well as I should have.
He and I had both managed large departments for a global, evil retail super center…
We made small talk in the company break room and during group functions.
I knew that he was passionate about charitable and environmental causes, that he grew his hair long and then cut it off for Locks of Love (at least twice that I can recall), he had an anti-establishment view towards government and authority.
He listened to punk rock and heavy metal bands, worked in his spare time as a sound technician for local rock bands and theatre groups, and generally considered himself a misunderstood outcast.
He struck me as having a somewhat esoteric nature, that I wanted to get to know better but my reserved nature held me at bay.
Nevertheless, when we both gave up our jobs in order to pursue other careers, I decided to locate him on Facebook to “keep in touch”.
And as I imagined, we clicked right off the bat, and he became one of the most engaging and entertaining commenters on my somewhat mundane posts.
Each morning when checking my e-mails, I’d see a notification that “Christian replied to your post”, and I knew I was in for a real treat:
“This will be good; get ready to laugh!”
Occasionally, I’d post something especially bizarre knowing he wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to respond; he was also one of the few people on my friends’ list who could appreciate the morbid side of my humor.
But while we teased each other with observations and witty cracks, it was still the online version of break room small-talk. I never took the time to dig beneath the surface of Christian’s charming exterior, to examine the personal demons that he kept chained in the basement.
Despite how far we’ve progressed in the year 2011, how easily we can communicate and share every bit of our lives with the rest of the world, people are still keeping each other at arm’s length. We still maintain this level of privacy and anonymity, and are very selective about who we let into our inner sanctum.
The trouble is, we have so many “friends”… but we don’t really have any friends.
Who are these people anyway?
We collected them because we wish to know them better… but many of us never make that effort.
We just string them along on our social networking sites, leaving breadcrumbs for them to follow and nibble on, and pat them on the head with our thumbs up of praise.
When it comes to a matter of great importance, a matter of life and death, could we depend on them?
And could they depend on us?
The news of Christian’s death, knowing we had just chatted on Facebook days earlier, made me keenly and painfully aware that I never really knew what was going on in his life.
I wasn’t checking in with him regularly, and paying close enough attention to the changes in his mood and behaviour.
Instead, I was performing my joint roles as wife and mother, obsessing over my silly website portfolio malfunction, worrying that my allergies and the full moon were hampering my creativity… truth is, I’ve been completely self-absorbed.
And sadly, this revelation doesn’t come as a surprise, as I’ve been introspective for years.
But I lost someone who mattered to me, and it was someone I didn’t even realize mattered so much to me… until he was gone.
Like turning on the faucet and fully expecting to get hot water….
And as I contemplate what happens next, and pine over the lost opportunity to reach out, and dwell in darkness over how his mother must be suffering to lose her precious child…
I’m also making a vow to myself.
And to my son and daughters, my husband, my relatives and friends – both off-line and on-line…
That I will be more attentive in the future.
I will take those extra few moments to write back, to click your profile and read your messages, to give you more lap-time and cuddle-time (if you live in my house!), and make sure that everything I say and type is expressed in a kind, compassionate manner.
It won’t be easy for me.
I’m one of those people who craves “space”, and that ever-elusive “peace and quiet”….
But anyone who has lost a family member knows how depressing that “peace and quiet” is, which comes with an empty house, an empty room, an empty chair…
In all that newfound space, you’ll see shadows moving, and you’ll turn to see – hopeful and still-expectant to find your loved one standing in the doorway, alive and smiling.
All the technological advances, greed, and ambition in the world cannot replace what we need most…. other people.
So I give you my love. All of you.
Oh, and a can of SPAM too!
Those of you who read these words, those of you who don’t… and even the ones who are too young to read, but are sitting on my lap watching me type. You get kisses instead. Unless you’d rather have SPAM. ;)
Let’s hug and embrace each other, reconnect, and share who we really are.
[And on that note, I'm going to confess share that one of my favorite songs was written and performed by Metallica.
I'm dedicating "Nothing Else Matters" to Christian, even though he preferred Pink Floyd.]