I joined Facebook in 2008 after a visit with my friends in Trinidad. It was a way for us to keep in touch and share pictures and updates of our lives. Soon the friend requests started pouring in from acquaintances, distance relatives, and strangers. I usually ignored or denied requests from strangers and accepted requests from anyone I knew.
Then one day an unfamiliar face with a familiar name popped up. I had a friend request from Gena Raymond. As I am quite easily amused, I was tickled by the thought of Gena Raymond being friends with Gena Raymond. I decided to peruse her profile to make sure she wasn’t dangerous or crazy or both. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Not only did she seem completely “normal”, but she actually seemed much like me, like someone I may have been friends with had we crossed paths in real life.
We were both in our mid-twenties at the time. As I scrolled through her photographs, I saw pictures with friends at parties and the beach. It was apparent that we were both single and shared some common interests. She always seemed to be smiling and having fun and I liked that about her. I readily accepted her friend request.
As time progressed, I rarely thought of her except when her name showed up in my Facebook feed to display one of her posts or new photos. Once in a while, we would like each other’s pictures or status updates, but we didn’t get much more involved in each other’s Facebook lives than that. I’m sure I didn’t spend much time time on her mind either. Still, it gave me silly and momentary delight whenever her name appeared on my screen. I felt an odd kinship and connection with this stranger who shared my somewhat uniquely spelled first name.
I voyeuristically watched her life unfold over the next few years as she watched mine. I saw her enter into new relationships and noticed them quietly fade away. Then I noticed one that did not fade away, but turned into a joyous wedding and then a honeymoon. She looked radiant and alive standing on a picturesque beach with her new husband, surrounded by family and friends. I was happy that she seemed even happier.
Then one day everything changed. I noticed a flood of comments on her Facebook page. Her new husband had suddenly died.
I felt shock, horror, confusion, and deep compassion and sorrow. I couldn’t understand how or why this happened. From what I gathered, he died from a medical condition he wasn’t even aware he had.
This changed everything.
When I was younger, I was taught The Golden Rule: Treat others the way you wish to be treated. Unfortunately, this rule does not capture the individuality of the seven plus billion people who share this world. For not everyone wishes to be treated the same.
I presumed had I been in her situation, I would not want a virtual stranger to reach out to me. I would want to be left alone with my loved ones. So that’s what I did. I left her alone. However, this still felt uncomfortable. How could I watch this tragedy unfold before me and not reach out in any way? I also couldn’t unfriend her during this time. She probably wouldn’t even notice, but I would and I didn’t want to take that chance.
Caught in a delicate conundrum, I did what many of us do when stuck: nothing. Though I believe saying we did nothing is an oxymoron since it is quite a staunch position to take in and of itself- doing nothing IS in fact choosing a distinct course of action.
I thought about her more and more often, thought about how our fairly young lives that once seemed so similar had taken such drastically different paths. I became painfully aware that we were in fact strangers caught in a virtual reality where our human connection was not enough to take our “friendship” any closer.
I felt pained whenever I saw her name appear. I felt like I should look away whenever I saw reminders of her trying to piece her broken life back together. I felt like one of those people who reaches for a camera phone instead of a hand when they witness human suffering.
Then one day I noticed her name did not appear at all anymore. While I felt a little relieved that she had reclaimed her privacy, I also felt nagging concern. I searched for her name and another Gena Raymond that definitely was not her was the only one that appeared. Our superficial connection had dissolved as easily and suddenly as it had appeared.
I wondered if she had blocked me, unfriended me, or decided to leave virtual Facebook friendships behind altogether. I couldn’t and didn’t fault her whatever the case. I certainly understood why anyone would pick any of those valid options.
Yet her absence is sometimes felt more than her presence was. Sometimes I log on and think about her. I wonder if she has found love again. I wonder if she has found hope and happiness. I wonder if I made the right choice by staying away in a difficult time.
I think of how much we want connection that we will find common threads in the most inane of details and ignore the chasms between us. I think this is what makes humans beautiful. I think this is what makes our connections so fragile.
Image Credit: sociobits.org