Speechwriting: Corporate, Weddings, Retirement

7/24/09

I Invited the World to Have Coffee

This week, I invited everyone, all 325 or so friends on my Facebook account to coffee. So far, 10 maybes, and one committed person. Two of those maybes are just being polite, as they live too far to come. Including me, then, 10 in all may be there. I think, at most, 25 people will be there once everyone reads their e-mail.

Novel idea? I am calling it a Facebook experiment. It is novel, I suppose, but only because of the way we are connecting. I think of it somewhat like a wedding in which there is a really big table, and although few have met, they are all connected by the person at another table. Only this is a coffee shop, and you won't find your drunk uncle singing Frank Sinatra tunes with a gin and tonic accent.

What if My Facebook Friends Got Together?
My friends are a diverse bunch. Off the top of my head, I know there are at least five countries represented, and locally, speakers of several languages. Some are rich, and others are poor.

A few are well-known to a degree (writers and authors, and one particularly famous singer -- you probably heard him on the radio with his old band). Others unknown to but a few. Some keep very tight circles, with just a friend or two, without much family. Runners from my youth and adulthood (no overlap). One runner even held a few world records for a long time.

At least one of my students from my professional tutoring days. Students from Wheaton Academy. Colleagues from a dozen gigs. Artists.

Their opinions on a life are wildly different. One has unbridled joy despite her simple lifestyle. Another has an equal amount of unbridled pessimism, living at at the same economic level. Politically, you name it. I have middle-of-the-roaders, rabid Obama fans, and rabid Palin fans. Some are conservative, others are liberal (politically and lifestyle). Their religions cannot be summed up either. With this many people, you can imagine: practicing and pretending, devoutly for, devoutly against. Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Mormon, agnostic, pagan, atheist. Some just don't care about any of this, and, for all, they might just be ambivalent, or, by default some version of disinterested agnostic.

Friendship in Era of (In)Tolerance
In an earlier post, I lamented how one person I know could not tolerate a friend's view that mixed marriages were wrong. So, I got to thinking. What about my friends? What are my own intolerances? Somehow, that point was lost in the reading by the person who inspired me to greater thought. Stirred up a hornet's nest and found that my tolerance of another's intolerance was intolerable, and, let's just say I won't be getting a Christmas card this year.

For some, intolerance is a disguise, an excuse to avoid intimacy. Scary stuff, that. Men are known for superficial friendships, talking baseball and politics, but never going deeper. Men aren't the only ones. We are afraid of relationships with people different than us -- just as much as we are afraid of relationships with people exactly like us. I am.

I have a good friend with whom I can argue, and know that we are still friends. He is much more conservative than I am, and will quickly point out how he sees this world. We both agree it is broken, but aren't in accord with the solution. I trust him as my friend, and with confidence know I can express my views. He will remain my friend before and after the conversation. He never makes it, nor takes it, personal. I consider it an honor to know him.

Why I Am Doing This
My general thesis is that my friends...

  1. Are interesting (and many are flat-out exciting).
  2. Miss the range of friends they had in high school.
  3. Miss the depth of friendship they had in college.
  4. Aren't as social as they would like to be.

I want to encourage people just by merely getting together. Some have said this world is less friendly, and I think this is true. I don't know why. I'm not a sociologist. I do see, at least in my little world, people hiding away. A few on my Facebook list have confided they are lonely, and play online games all day. Why not call someone and meet in person? I do that.

I am online more than many, and one of those online places over the years has been a forum for book reviewers for Amazon.com. I have met many here as they traveled through, and when a large group us rented a room in the famous Algonquin Hotel in New York City. I cannot begin to tell you the joy I felt meeting my friends in person. Our common interests were a glue that drew us together, even though our lives often couldn't be more different.

I believe we live isolated lives that do not need to be, slowly deteriorating our sense of what defines relationship.

Our lives become theories, not realities. Our reality is some postmodern thing. We blame society, or lifestyle, but some of my most isolated friends are not overworked. They are under-relational. It is a funny thing too, as I ask around. The answer to these kinds of concerns is, "We are insulated. We never go visit people," followed by the admittance that they themselves never take initiative.

One friend recently met a group of fellow online players. They met at a central location in St. Louis and had a fabulous time. This is what should happen.

When I taught in a jail in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I noticed a peculiar thing: Late at night, at, say, 2:00 am, we all see the same thing: A ceiling dim, fuzzy in the half light of night and the need to sleep. At 2:00 am, the worst of humankind, the most noble, the beautiful and the ugly all encounter themselves for what they are. Be it lonely, content, joyful or beleaguered all look deep inside.

At 2:00 am, all men are equal.

I am not immune to any of this. I have had a rough few months. There's no need to labor into a pity party because all is well, but, content or not, I have suffered a few bruises directly, or watching others deal with some hard things around me.

On the whole though, I am hopeful. I don't see this life as darkly as a few others I know. You know the sort. They can find an excuse to pinch themselves just so that anything good can be seen in a more cynical light.

Meanwhile, my world is tremendously diverse. I don't know how this happened, but I look back at the adventures in my life, and it is a series of intertwining colorful junctures into some exciting lives and stories. It still is. You wouldn't know this to see me, or to look at any single glimpse, but the rich cavalcade of it all amuses me, a guy living with his wife in a small suburban apartment. No kids. No dog. I want to share the mundane and the exciting.

What Will It Come To?
Will I be sitting alone, reading a book, watching the door, wishing someone, anyone would answer my invitation? Or will it be an amazing evening of connecting? Look back here next week for my update.

Have you ever met your online friends? How did it go?




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