Friends on Earth and Friends Above

Meeting someone in real life whom you’ve been communicating with via social media for ages is something of an odd experience.  It’s not quite like meeting an acquaintance with whom you’ve had an extended, written correspondence via e-mail, even if the messages have been going back and forth for quite a long time.  Social media outlets allow not only for an instantaneous exchange of words and images, but also of reactions: it’s their speed which makes said exchanges seem more like friendly chatter.

Yesterday for example, I got to hang out for an hour with my friend, writer and film critic Steven Greydanus, as he was in Washington recording some television appearances.  Although we’ve been chatting on social media for awhile, this was the first chance we’ve had to sit together and have caffeinated beverages.  As often happens on these occasions, I experienced an initial sensation of adjustment – this is a real person! – followed by very easy conversation.  When you’ve been conversing on social media, most of the preliminaries we human beings tend to go through when we initially meet are already well out of the way.

On the way home afterwards, I thought about how many good people I’ve met through social media over the years.  Cliff way up in Nova Scotia for example, loves the old-time radio shows broadcast online Sunday nights through our local DC public radio station, while Vicki out in Arkansas loves discussing art history and British TV murder mysteries.  And I have superbrethren all over the place, from the US and Canada, to the UK and France, since apparently I’m not the last son of Krypton after all.

However, it’s entirely possible that I may never meet any of these people. Technology has come quite a long way, but we’re still not at the point where Star Trek-style transporters stand in our office buildings, ready to zip us off to wherever we need to go in a cascade of light.  We remain dependent to a large extent upon circumstances, as to whether our online friends from Nevada or Australia are ever going to be passing our way, or whether we are going to find ourselves in their neck of the woods.  And yet as maudlin as that may sound, I don’t think it reduces the genuine good that social media can do, in forming permanent friendships.

There’s a lovely old hymn called “For the Beauty of the Earth”, which in America tends to appear on the hymn boards at Mass around Thanksgiving.  It was written by the English High Church Anglican poet Folliott Sandford Pierpoint in 1864, and is usually sung to the music of the hymn “Dix”, written by the German Evangelical Lutheran composer Conrad Kocher in 1838.  While the hymn’s structure of giving thanks and speaking to the beauties of nature make it a natural choice for singing at Thanksgiving, in Pierpoint’s verses there is a wonderful allusion to human relationships that transcend earthly limits.

In his litany of things to be thankful for, Pierpoint lists, “friends on earth, and friends above,” reminding us of the long-held Christian belief in the “communion of saints”.  That connection among both the living and the dead, as all await the Last Day, is something that helps to bind the Christian community together, even with all our divisions and disputes.  People of faith recognize that human limitations of time and space are no boundaries whatsoever to God, and so in that spirit we can direct our thoughts and prayers to those with us now, including those whom we may never get to know in real life, and also those who have gone before us.

Forming genuinely good, mutually beneficial friendships in real life through initial contact on social media is absolutely possible, whatever others may say to the contrary.  Sociologists tell us that online relationships are not real, even if they may feel real; they can be abusive, parasitic, and shallow.  Fortunately, I am not a sociologist, and I’m quite happy to give you many examples from my own life where true friendships have formed through initial online contact.  Such things are not automatic of course, since not everyone you meet through social media is going to become a close, personal friend, but they do actually happen.

Yet even in those relationships that never go beyond social media – someone with whom I share a laugh on Twitter, or whose travel pictures I “like” on Facebook – I find that I can and should still be of service in some capacity.  All of us, whatever our station in life, need other people. We seek words of encouragement, hope for the future, and new, helpful ideas.  We want to laugh, shed a tear, or share our frustrations with the difficulties of this life.  In that regard, dismissing the possibility that anything good can come out of social media, is a bit like questioning whether anything good can come out of Nazareth.

Never discount the fact, gentle reader, that not only may your words, your example, or your prayers have a profound impact on someone else whom you know in real life, but you may also have such an impact on those whom you only know through an online account.

Selfie with Steven Greydanus (Courtesy the latter)

Selfie with Steven Greydanus
(Courtesy the latter)

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “Friends on Earth and Friends Above

  1. To paraphrase Dumbledore, “Of course it is happening inside [the internet] . . . but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” While one cannot discount that there are times it is important and a blessing to have friends physically nearby, there is much more to friendship than location: shared values, interests, hobbies, and mutual affection. In the past friends who were separated would write letters to each other. Now we use social media and texting (though some of us still write actual letters!) and feel close though we are apart. It’s a marvelous thing, very much part of the communion of saints. I do wish I had a TARDIS to visit people but maybe the Doctor will come soon and lend it to me.

    Like

  2. Great post!

    FB has given me the ability to stay in touch with so many people with which I would have completely lost touch.

    Early on in my FB years I “friended” a woman I thought I knew. Her name was Linda and we had a mutual friend. Little did I know she was a different Linda living in MO. She said yes and I consider her a friend. I actually refer to her as my kindred spirit on line.

    Twitter has allowed me to keep up with people I have come to know through blogs and podcasts. I worry the day will come that I meet some of you in person and act like we are bffs and you all don’t have a clue who I am. 😛

    Know this Superman… when you (and others in my on-line world) ask for prayers and I see it, I pause and say one immediately and then do try so hard to keep them in my mind and heart.

    Like

  3. Making authentic friendships is a more difficult art for some than others, after all; I’ve always found the doctrine of the communio sanctorum to be specially consoling in times of loneliness or discouragement. Thanks for this post!

    Like

  4. I’ve met social media friends in real life several times, and the strangest thing is hearing their actual voices for the first time. Typically we’ve seen photos, but have no idea how they sound. That is, unless they have podcasts/vlogs, that is!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s