There’s this quote, or anecdote, about how if all the problems facing all the individuals in the world were leaped into a giant pile, you’d choose to have your own stack back in a heartbeat.
There’s no harm in assuming that everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle than your own. And yet, you can hold this blanket assumption without truly grappling with what this means. We go through life immersed in our own realities, knowing other people with varying degrees of intimacy but never really knowing what it feels like to have their heart pulsing in your chest, to have their neurons firing inside your brain.
Humans crave connection, and sometimes I fear we’ve gotten worse at it. In 2018, we post pictures, tweet thoughts, and video snippets of our lives in “stories” meant to be consumed by our vast social networks. A double tap can imply admiration or simply acknowledgement. It has become both a reflex and a currency.
You may like every single thing a friend has posted to Instagram, and yet you can be standing next to them completely unaware of what thoughts, battles, demons are consuming them. There is this false sense of knowing one another simply because we know may know what one another has been up to, and it can make the hardest parts of each journey around the sun so incredibly lonely.
Still, there are people who exhaust themselves in pursuit of cultivating a life lived with what looks like effortless perfection. There really is no such thing. And yet, we’ve begun to celebrate those brave enough to take a no-makeup selfie, to pile up likes on pictures of messy living rooms or mounds of dishes in the sink.
As our world changes, so do we, especially this generation who came of age with these platforms. I learned to type at rapid-speed by having late-night conversations on AIM. I documented all the highs and lows of high school on LiveJournal. I signed up for Facebook back when you needed a college email address to qualify. But if I was to track these developments over time, the conclusion I would draw is that at one point these innovations went from facilitating authentic conversation to hindering them.
Part of this could just be life’s natural trajectory. Perhaps there is a natural tendency to disconnect as you grow up and settle down, as your family and its rhythms replaces a robust social calendar with leisurely brunches. And as time and distance accumulate, it becomes harder to maintain friendships that dwell in the depths.
But life doesn’t get easier. In fact, it often gets so much harder. And I hate the thought of people I still care about not knowing they can lean on me. I hate that pain sometimes get compounded because we think we are the only one to have ever tasted that strain, not realizing that even in our own networks there are people who have been there, who might even still be there, it’s just not the kind of thing that fits into a Facebook post and there’s no filter to make it look just right on Instagram.
When I ask myself why I haven’t pushed myself to share my writing here more widely, it comes down to a combination of fear and frustration. There’s fear, of course, because some of the most fragile parts of my heart have been splattered on these pages, but the frustration comes from feeling like so much of this should have a more organic way out than me yelling into the digital void. I’d love to share it all in person, over your drink of choice. I want the kind of connection I grew up with, forged over fully present conversation and often dangerous levels of inebriation. I want this to be a dialogue, rather than a monologue. I want to trade horror stories and battle scars.
And while I don’t doubt that it would be my own problems I’d grasp from the mound of suffering, I, like all of, wouldn’t mind digging through the pile a bit. So I guess I settle for laying my lot out there, hoping that it might make you feel more comfortable with the lot you’ve got.