Every week, I am pleasantly surprised and filled with inexplicable nostalgia when FACEBOOK sends me a message reminding me of upcoming birthdays of friends, many of whom I haven’t seen or heard from in years. Usually, because it costs nothing to do it, I send these aging friends an e-greeting of one sort or another; and I don’t really expect them to respond because, even though these e-greetings are often fun and clever, they also seem like a lazy way to maintain friendships which now mostly belong in the past.
But, occasionally, FACEBOOK reminds me of birthdays of friends who are still near and dear to me, even though I don’t see them as often as I should or would like to. For these friends, I do go out of my way to do something special. Most recently, to someone who has worked closely with me in theatre, at a surprise party being thrown for his 40th birthday, I contributed 40 specialty cupcakes, and also gifted him with all three seasons of BREAKING BAD. Before that, to another friend and colleague in theatre whom I’ve known since 1975, whose wit and wisdom I continue to admire, I surprised him with a bottle of imported Scotch whiskey costing nearly $150, and also took him out to a nice Japanese lunch in Kansas City.
I could list more, but the point I’m trying to make is this—in none of these occasions, when I had gone out of my way to do something special for a friend’s birthday, did I get a follow-up “Thank You” by way of a phone call, a note, or even just an e-mail. So, if our friends and neighbors just don’t do it anymore, why should we expect our elected leaders, the contentious Republicans and Democrats in Congress, to even be civil to one another?
Okay, I admit that I continue to look at the incoming FACEBOOK messages about friends with upcoming birthdays, even though I now also delete them almost immediately. I don’t feel badly about this, because I do not want to feel worse later, about feeling badly that I haven’t been thanked properly for having gone out of my way to buy expensive gifts for these once and future friends, my friends without benefits.
I wonder if it’s significant that, even when I was young, one of my favorite songs was “I Am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel. I still remember some of the lyrics—
I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.
I also wonder if Paul Simon ever misses Art Garfunkel. Are they “friends” on FACEBOOK? Do they need FACEBOOK to send them reminders of each other’s birthdays, or have they committed the dates to memory? Do they give each other gifts, send each other cards via snail-mail, perhaps even just short notes via e-mail? Can they bear to listen to “The Sound of Silence” now?
Okay, okay. I confess. I’m lying. I’m eagerly anticipating the next FACEBOOK reminder about which friend is having another birthday…and the next one…and the next one. And now, not just for birthdays either. I wish there were some way FACEBOOK could also alert us regularly about friends who’ve been sick, at home or in the hospital…friends who’ve lost loved ones, including pets…friends who’ve lost their jobs or their homes…friends who need friends.