By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
When a friend posted a photograph on Facebook of a lake in the woods with the sun breaking through the fog, I had to comment: “awesome.”
Shortly afterward, a message popped up from my cousin, Deb, asking me how I knew Mary Pat, the person who posted the photograph. I was surprised to learn that Deb had provided day care for Mary Pat’s “babies,” who are now adults. Mary Pat and I were classmates at Archbishop Brady High School in West St. Paul, Minn., which I explained to Deb.
Facebook, by its nature, lacks the depth of face-to-face relationships, and it can attract bullies. But exchanges like the one I experienced with Deb provide me with a greater sense that we’re all in this life on earth together. We ought to start acting like we’re on the same team!
The funny thing is that when I became friends with Mary Pat on Facebook, I wasn’t sure how I knew her because she didn’t use her maiden name. As a newbie to Facebook, I just assumed people “friended” me because we had been acquainted somewhere over the years. But it wasn’t until Mary Pat posted an old photo from high school, perhaps for “Throw Back Thursday,” that I recognized her. She was wearing the familiar uniform and the smile on her face is one I never forgot. The years seemed to disappear, and I enjoyed the brief visit down memory lane.
With each posting from a different Facebook friend whose identity I wasn’t initially sure about, I’d begin to figure out the connection. Oh, that’s one of my Aunt Rita’s daughters, I’d say to myself. Or, that’s a friend from my early years at the Quad-City Times. I’ve become more cautious about accepting Facebook friends after one of them began posting offensive images.
Some of my colleagues and friends complain that Facebook allows people to create an artificial persona of a successful, active life with brilliant children and adoring spouses. I think there’s some truth in that. Others use Facebook to post their profanity-laden frustrations based on their political leanings in reaction to U.S. and world events. Those posts make me feel alienated rather than connected. But I’ve also viewed a post from a former employer, bereft over the sudden death of his beloved wife of 50 years. His pain, even on line, was so palpable. I wanted to reach out and give him a real hug.
Other friends post pictures of children and grandchildren at different stages of their lives and I enjoy this virtual experience. Yesterday, after Mass, I saw my friend Liz walking to her car with her 4-year-old grandson, Jack. I’d never met him in person but greeted him, “Hi Jack, I’ve seen you on Facebook!”
Pope Francis observed in his 2016 World Communications Day message that “It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal. … The digital world is a public square, a meeting-place where we can either encourage or demean one another, engage in a meaningful discussion or unfair attacks.”
I choose to take the route of my Facebook friends like Deb, Mary Pat, Cheryl, Jennifer and Carol, whose posts speak to the human heart, in the manner of Pope Francis.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at email@example.com.)