As I read a friend’s blog yesterday afternoon, his words triggered in my mind an epiphany of sorts. Though he wrote about feeling stressed at the unusual degree of obligations he is under at the moment, his words made me realize that my experience of late is at the opposite end of the spectrum of responsibility. I have very little on my plate at the moment and, for that matter, haven’t been overburdened in any way for quite some time. Oh, I’ve had to go to doctor appointments and meetings involving commitments for which I’ve volunteered, but none of these things really demand my time. I can skip doctor appointments. I can opt not to attend meetings, an option I have lately exercised on more than one occasion. I don’t have to do much of anything. I’m free to sit on my hands if I wish and I won’t be punished for it. In fact, generally speaking, I won’t even be missed.

Here’s where my friend’s blog post really triggered my thoughts. He mentioned yesterday’s Facebook outage. He suggested, according to my reading, that people realized that the lack of Facebook did not coincide with the end of the world. They noticed, but they didn’t panic. For some, the absence of Facebook was a welcome relief.  People noticed it wasn’t available and then went about their lives, engaging in something else that captured their attention, probably in something more interesting and more productive.  It occurred to me that it’s the same with me. Except my absence isn’t as noticeable as the absence of Facebook. In fact, my absence is probably not noticed at all, except by a tiny number of people. Even for them, my absence isn’t likely to be as disruptive to their routines as would be the absence of Facebook. That is, my presence in their lives takes up less time and attention than the presence of Facebook. Or whatever. It could be Twitter. Or CNN. Or, as much as it pains me to think it, Fox News. The absences of other distractions would be far more noticeable than my absence.

Part of the reason other distractions would be (and are) more noticeable, of course, is that I tend to stay out of the way. I behave like a hermit. I stay at home and don’t reach out to people except through my writing. And my writing isn’t sufficiently engaging to merit much attention because, let’s face it, my writing is for the most part the epitome of self-absorption.  The thing is, frequently I feel like interacting with other people, but I’ve not developed a relationship with them that is conducive to reaching out to them. It would be awkward, for example, to call one of several people with whom I might want to chat and suggest we get together for coffee or lunch or whatever. Such an overture would be met, I think, with suspicion or some other emotion that’s not conducive to conversation. I can imagine what might go through their minds if I were to approach them about meeting for coffee: “What the hell is this about?” “Hmm, I wonder what’s wrong?” “Is he experiencing an emotional emergency of some kind and is reaching out to me for help?” Something like that.

Oddly, though, I don’t respond that way on those rare occasions when someone reaches out to me. Just yesterday, I got a text message from a woman who asked if I might want to get together for coffee. It was not the first time she has suggested we get together and, in fact, we used to meet fairly often just to chat about writing. We got together a week or so ago, in fact. I had the sense that she contacted me just to see how I was doing with my cancer treatments. Yesterday morning, I suggested we try another time. I didn’t sleep well the night before and spent most of the morning, almost comatose, in my recliner. My last chemo treatment was four days ago, so fatigue began kicking in yesterday morning. I did not feel sufficiently strong to get dressed, much less go out and chat. I did suggest another time, though. My suggestion conflicted with a dental appointment on her schedule. We left it that we would get together sometime “in the future.” I’ve gotten slightly off track, though. My conversations with her are not the kind of conversations I  would seek with people who might consider my overture a suspicious endeavor. I suppose the conversations that don’t take place would be more about learning who the people are, what they think, and exploring whether our thought processes might run in sufficient parallel that we could become friends or closer acquaintances or whatever else might fit the communication. Who knows? I don’t.

I’m 65 years old and still don’t know how to initiate or sustain conversations that could lead to friendship. That’s odd. And it suggests that there comes a time when it is, indeed, impossible to teach an old dog new tricks. At any rate, reading about the Facebook outage and the way people readily dealt with it led me to think about my own value in the eyes of people with whom I have little contact. I’d not be missed, at least not by many and not by much. Facebook is, indeed, a more important fixture in their lives than I am. And that’s because I haven’t tried, or don’t know how, to become more valuable. Hmm. Hmm.

I wonder whether my chemo-brain is responsible for any of this long, convoluted thought process? I wonder whether, two weeks hence, I will read this post and wonder what the hell was wrong with me when I wrote it? That’s true of many things I write. It could be true of this. Or maybe not. Time will tell.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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