God bless Facebook – and God bless whoever persuaded me to give it a try. Actually, I entered Facebook sort of through the backdoor or for a rather odd reason – because I wanted to check out a group that had been formed sort of in my honor by some members of the Chamber Singers which I used to direct. (Long story.) So I became a Facebook member only to sneak a peek at the group’s page – but never did a single Facebook thing after that. Every so often I would get an email from someone requesting to be my Facebook Friend, but they might as well have been addressing me in Mandarin. I had absolutely no idea what Facebook really was or what people did there – or what it meant to be someone’s Friend there. (For all I knew, it meant agreeing co-signing on their mortgage.) Moreover, I had not the slightest interest in learning more. (I can be laughably entrenched in my ignorance when I chose to be.)
And then at some point, that changed. It may have been my younger brother Steve – a champion nag, if there ever was one – who beat the Facebook drum until I finally relented. Or I might have become intrigued because of my brother-in-law Mark’s enthusiasm – or because of any number of students at Carthage who are part of it. The specifics of my “conversion” are now lost in the distant fog of history (when you get to be my age, nine months ago feels like ancient history) . . . and I can’t even remember now whether it was me or my wife who joined first. All I know is that she and I are among the growing throng who really appreciate Facebook as a vehicle of being better connected with others – and especially for the great delight it yields in facilitating REconnection with people in one’s life with whom you’ve had no contact whatsoever in the longest time.
Case in point. . . Within the last several days I have reconnected with a classmate from Luther who I have not seen nor exchanged a single word since we graduated back in 1982. That’s more than a quarter century, which makes it seem even longer. The Facebook naysayers would point out that both Paul-Bryan and I have managed all these years to live perfectly happy, full lives without any contact with each other, so what’s the big deal? I don’t begin to understand that kind of dismissive attitude. If we had managed to reconnect through more old-fashioned means – tracking each other down through snail mail and phone calls- I don’t think anyone would even think about making light of it. But because Facebook makes such a reconnection relatively simple, some people view such reconnections with suspicion or skepticism. Not me. I think they matter a lot – especially when one approaches the half century mark (which probably means you’re on the back half of your earthly existence) like I am.
Paul-Bryan was a classmate of mine at Luther – and we mostly knew each other through Nordic Choir, though he was a tenor and I was a baritone. . . and he was a tall, strapping athlete (a valued member of Luther’s track team, and I think his best event was the high hurdles) and I . . . well, let’s just say that I was not. But we were two nice guys who were also both Preacher’s Kids – and we turned out to be beautifully compatible choir tour roommates. And after all these years, I still remember funny, strange little things about it – like the fact that one of Paul-Bryan’s favorite meals was to drink a good-sized bottle of 100% pure orange juice. . . that would be all . . . and who was I to argue with a track star? And often before going to bed Paul-Bryan would do isometrics (since obviously there were no weights around to lift) and he was even patient enough to try and teach me some of the finer points about that. Not that my personal lifestyle was in any way transformed, but it was a bit eye-opening for this confirmed couch potato, whose body would make Barney Fife look mighty impressive by comparison, to be around someone who cared about their body and their health like Paul-Bryan did. And during those brief spurts over the last 25 years when I tried to be good to myself in this regard- or more recently when I have finally gotten serious about exercise and eating more healthily- I feel like it was the sprouting of that seed planted so long ago by PBZ.
Anyway, I am so delighted that Paul-Bryan went looking for me on Facebook … and reconnecting with him has been such a pleasure for me. Among other Luther classmates, I have especially enjoyed reconnecting with one in particular who didn’t seem to like me at all when we were there. (And frankly, he would not have been on my list of people with whom I would enjoy being marooned with on a desert island.) We were competitors of comparable talents – but with two very different personalities ( I was rather uptight and cautious – he was much more free-wheeling. So we were rather wary of each other, I think.) But after 25 years, we have both matured (I hope) and seem able to enjoy and appreciate each other in a way we did not back then. How fun is that! Another great pleasure is to be in much closer contact with my cousins, the Northern Bergs- the children of my Uncle Paul – after so many frustrating years of infrequent reunions and occasional Christmas cards. And I’m delighted to be reconnecting with friends from back in Atlantic, Iowa – where I went to high school – and in some cases I am back in touch with people that I have not laid eyes on in more than thirty years. Add to that past significant others, close current friends, students present and past, and it adds up to a rich community indeed.
There are Facebook frustrations, of course. For instance, I am Friends with one of Polly’s former students at Tremper – this was back when I was naively agreeing to be friends with anyone who asked -and this person is rather fond of the F word – and I don’t mean frankfurter – and one of these days I am going to have to learn how to either Un-friend this person or block them so I’m not having my day sullied by that kind of talk. And there are a couple of people who I was so excited to really engage with on Facebook who have ignored my every attempt, which confirms that not everyone agrees on what Facebook Friendship means. And as a naturally verbose person (in case you couldn’t tell) the brevity of the typical Facebook exchange is something I’m not yet used to. But frustrations aside, I am delighted to be one of the faces on Facebook and look forward to all of the connections and reconnections yet to come.