My father was, to my knowledge, the first person in his family to go to college. He and my mother grew up in rural Georgia, a place where men were farmers, women could cook fried peach pies that would melt in your mouth, children played in the rushing waters of swollen ditches after a rainstorm and great-grandmothers could send a stream of brown tobacco juice fifteen feet into a Prince Albert can on the floor by the pot bellied stove.
My dad co-oped, that is, worked and went to school in order to be able to earn his degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology, a school he loved with a football team he loved more. (Dad was at Tech from 1950 to 1953, in the Bobby Dodd era, when Tech was a powerhouse and lots of games were won at Grant Field,many attended by a much younger yours truly in the sixties. The 1953 team went 9-2, was ranked 8th in the land in the final AP poll and beat West Virginia 42-19 in the Sugar Bowl)
In order to get back and forth to school in Atlanta from middle Georgia (which might as well have been Saudi Arabia at that point), Dad hitchhiked. Imagine that. Putting your thumb up in the air, waiting for a complete stranger to have pity on you, pull their 1946 Ford over and offer to take you as far as Macon. It was pretty commonplace for students to hitch or thumb rides back then, and no one thought much of it. I’m sure there were the mothers and fathers who worried obsessively about their progeny on the roads, but from what I hear it was a pretty safe practice back then. It was the accepted way to get from point A to point B if you were not affluent enough to own a car. I’m sure many a tall tale was told in those cars during those rides, friendships may have started up, or at least amiable conversations were enjoyed along the highways and byways of an America that was fresh off a victory in a world war and didn’t have much to fear.
Today, we travel a different way. We hop onto the internet, thumbing and hitching and tagging along with chats, boards, list serves, podcasts, E-magazines and E-books, text messages and Skype. We meet new people at every turn, most of them good folks who like peach pies just as much as we do, some bad apples that hang out in the dusty corners of the world wide web, but mostly, good folks just like us. We might leave a comment here, a line or two there, we might chat a few minutes or even over a few days. We might never connect again. Sometimes, some sweet times, words are exchanged, a joke is told, a turn of phrase catches our ear, a gentle reminder to be safe or watch out or tweak this or change that font hits us just right, and we know that the person on the other end of the clothesline, the person with their ear on the tin can opposite our own, is somehow the kind of person we want to know more about.
It’s hard to describe, this cyber-connection that happens between people who have never met. It’s hard to help a regular person, much less the occasional Luddite, understand that close personal connections, meaningful relationships, caring partnerships can be forged not only IRL (in real life, for the uninitiated) but on line. It happens. It is real. It is strong. It is lasting. As real and strong and lasting as any friendship or connection even made on sold ground and sealed with eye contact and a firm handshake.
As I head out next Friday, I anticipate seeing at least two dozen friends across the country, people I know from almost four decades ago when we were small children right up to people I’ve talked to on line but have never even spoken with on the phone. Of the two dozen, at least six I have never met in person. A couple I have talked to on the phone once, twice, maybe three or four times.
Funny thing, these half dozen and their counterparts already know as much about me as any friend I’ve ever had, some probably more. They’ve told me their stories and they’ve heard some of mine. They’ve told me what they get angry about and I’ve told them what I’m afraid of. We’ve shared recipes and we’ve talked about how broken the health care system is. We’ve rejoiced, virtually, over the wonderful successes of our children, and we’ve comforted each other when losses of physical health, marriages, and jobs have set us back. We have shared parts of our lives that are very real. All while thumbing and hitching that wilderness that is (still) the internet.
I will enjoy sharing a meal and a glass or two of wine in Chicago, IL, with my friend Jordan Grumet (@jordangrumet on the Twitter for those of you so inclined), physician, art guy, thinker, writer, and all around compassionate man. I have heard him speak, read many of his blog posts, talked with him on the phone, sought his advice, and have never met him face to face. We will fix that soon.
I will have lunch in Fargo, ND, with Julie Kuehl (@JulieKuehl), a lady I first heard of while listening to the International Mac Podcast (it disbanded on June 29, 2013). She has a presence elsewhere in the podcasting world, and most intriguing, she rides a motorcycle. She knows IT and is a smart lady. I very much look forward to picking her brain about what it’s like to live in the northernmost part of our nation.
My hostess with the mostest in Seattle will be none other than the brilliant and fascinating Dr. Elizabeth MacKenzie. We have become friends over the past year or more, swapping tales of mental health treatment dilemmas, sharing recipes, sending each other birthday gifts, and having a chat or three on the phone. Elizabeth has very graciously offered to host a Seafood Extravaganza at her home for me and several of my high school friends who live in the Seattle area. What fun that will be! We are also going to explore as many coffee shops as we can (my request) until I get caffeine toxic and have to stop. Other shenanigans will follow.
I will catch up over breakfast with Diane Misch MD, a friend who worked for me at the mental health center in Aiken way back in the day when she was pretty fresh out of training. Now, she is quadruple boarded (I think, at last count) and can run circles around me.
I will see my daughter and her new husband in Denver for the second time (my first visit was over the Fourth of July weekend and was fabulous), one of my oldest high school friends who is now a professor at Tulane, Mark Vanlandingham, and will have dinner with Dr. Ramona Bates (@rlbates) and her husband, who even offered to get tickets to see the DAWGS play the Razorbacks in Little Rock if I wanted to go. (Alas, the tight itinerary won’t allow it this time) She is knitting me a beautiful black Möbius scarf, which I may need to wear if fall keeps coming on as cool as it has the last couple of days.
Do you see, my friends, the richness of this landscape? Do you see the possibilities for friendships to blossom and grow, for stories to be shared and places visited and enjoyed together? We have never, in any other time, been able to connect to so many people in so many ways as we can now. The thumb in the air has given way to the DM, the hashtag and the follow.
I feel so very blessed to be able to meet up with all of these folks and more, to share a moment or a meal or a day or two days with them. I feel honored that they would trust me enough to invite me to enter their worlds, and that they want to be a part of mine.
We live in rapidly changing times, but some things never change. The need to connect, to belong, to share, to love and to be loved will always be the same, as long as man lives.
I am going to reach out, as best one man can, and make those connections that will lead to a richer, more productive, more satisfying life.
I look forward to sharing more with you here over the next month.