Long Distance Strangers

Originally posted to MySpace on:

September 29, 2006

A guy you know sees a friend he knows sitting on a park bench in March. The air is cool, the lake smells of algae, and the birds chirp some rhythmic beat that you swear sounds like “She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5, but it all seems trivial to the fact that the guy you know hasn’t seen the friend he knows in several years. Even on a nice spring morning, where Frisbees have the right of way, the guy you know (who we’ll call Billy from this point forward) breaks through the norm to say hi to his long lost friend.

As we ponder this scene for a moment, we can deduce a number of outcomes that dear old Billy will face:

1. Billy walks up to the friend and smiles as the friend immediately recognizes him. The two bond like the days had never passed, and wind up fishing in the algae-covered lake just moments later.

2. Billy feels hesitant at first—it’s been a long time since he’s seen this friend and doesn’t know if the friend will remember him—but takes the chance anyway because the friend is sitting in a reachable place, and Billy recognizes that no place is better than the one that’s accessible. When he approaches the friend, his fears are alleviated. The friend, of course, pats Billy on the back, because no friend of Billy’s would ever forget him. The two celebrate the reunion by stopping at McDonald’s for lunch.

3. The seasons have drifted uncontrollably throughout the years, yet Billy feels responsible for losing contact with this friend, so he makes the effort to say hello—whether through guilt or curiosity, only God and Billy know. Turns out, the friend admits to that same feeling of responsibility, and the two, therefore, reconnect through the laughter about how crazy the world has gotten since the ‘90s.

And many other happy outcomes are possible from such a joyous reunion.

But, that’s not what happens. The story that really happens follows:

Billy knows it’s been a long time—the last time he saw this friend, he was moving away. But, he tried his best to stay in contact. Phone calls, emails, letters—he did his part to keep the connection alive. But somehow, his efforts had failed. After numerous attempts to keep this friend in his circle, he gave up. Long distance claimed another victim, and Billy was left dangling the phone cord.

After all these years, he, by no surprise, feels nervous to approach this friend, but confident that lost time will vanish in an instant.

Because, that’s the way friendships work.

Boldly, he approaches his friend, ready to bridge the edges of time, hoping he still knows what makes the friend laugh. But, the friend, in some twisted act of fate, throws him a curveball.

“Hey, remember me?” says Billy.

He waits for an answer, but the friend stares at the lake.

“It’s me, Billy. We hung out a few years back. Remember?”

The friend yawns; then pulls out a book.

“How’s life been?” Billy continues. “I’ve been doing well. I invented a backpack for Rollerbladers that prevents them from falling forward, though I’m still working on the stomach pack. How about you?”

The friend starts reading the book, but sets it down to answer a ringing cellphone.

“Hello?” says the friend, to the cellphone. “Nothing, just reading. How are you?”

Billy stands at the park bench for a few minutes while he waits for the preoccupied stranger to finish the phone conversation. When he realizes there’s no end in sight, he calmly waves goodbye and returns to the life he knew ten minutes before.

And that’s the last he sees or thinks about the stranger that he once called “friend.”

Now,

I know what you’re thinking:

“This is farfetched. What friend would be so rude?”

Excuse me?

Why is this rude? Billy clearly had no place in this friend’s life. The past might have told a different tale, but it isn’t the past that defines him now, is it? Just because he was a friend back in the day, doesn’t mean he is a human being today, does it?

Here’s what you should be thinking:

“What kind of genius did he think he was, approaching the stranger like that? Didn’t he see that the person was busy? Too busy, in fact, to acknowledge him? If he had looked in the mirror that day, he would’ve seen, quite plainly, that he was a moron, thinking he might be important to an old friend. Complete tomfoolery.”

What? You’re not thinking that? But, aren’t you the one that ignores me in the same way? Aren’t you the one that lets my voicemail and email greetings sit in your inbox for years without response? How could you not be thinking that?

Here’s the thing:

I understand that distance creates rifts in friendships. I’m not going to argue that it doesn’t. The problem I have is that rifts do not equate total abandonment. Sure, any of my friends (or distant family members, as the case may be) can go weeks, months, or even years without initiation, and I’ll accept that as the way life is. People drift, just as the planks of a shipwreck drift—there’s no stopping it. That’s not my issue.

The issue I have deals exclusively with rudeness. If someone sends a message—voicemail, email, or some other form of communication—that elicits a response, then by all means say something. It doesn’t have to be the next great epic. It doesn’t even have to be a paragraph. Just answer the bloody question. If it’s a generic, “How are you?” then pretend that my initiative question is a sign that I still care, and that a simple answer such as, “I’m fine,” even if you’re not, is a sign that you still care.

Last I checked, that’s called “common courtesy.”

As much as I like writing, I don’t like writing complete garbage that I know will fall on deaf ears, so assume that this message has been eating away at my soul for years. Also assume that I wouldn’t write this if I didn’t think it important enough for you to see that truth.

And don’t assume this is geared toward any one particular person. This is geared toward most of the people I know, and anyone else who might happen across this journal who thinks he or she is too important to pay attention to the lives around him. Just because we all have our own private worlds doesn’t make us the center of the one Big World—the one that everyone else lives in. As busy as you are, pretend, at least, that you still have the time to not be a jerk. It’ll make the rest of us happier, and possibly more productive.

Here’s a reprieve:

Obviously, there’s a point where dialogue has to end. I’m not making an issue over who gets last rites over the conversation. I’m simply saying, if someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time says, “hello,” then say hello back. If he or she asks you about your favorite color, either tell him, or tell him that it’s against your religion to speak of such matters—just tell him something. Sooner or later, there will be a breather. Just ride it out. It’s hard enough to wait on the blessings of life; we don’t need it coming in additional doses of old friends ignoring our hellos, too.

What human being does that, by the way? That’s the equivalent of asking your friend to hold a lit stick of dynamite for you while you search for a foxhole. Makes me wonder why any of us bother.

If this is harsh, then suck it up, because that’s your conscience telling you to get with the program. No one’s asking you to a movie. I’m just asking you to show some courtesy.

And if you truly don’t have time to respond, then leave a polite message saying so. For all I care, you can send a copy/pasted default message saying you’re busy right now—anything to prove that you’re still alive and functional.

Let’s pretend our parents did a good job making us into ladies and gentlemen, okay? Is that too much to ask?

All right, I’m done now.

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