City cousins and sycamore saplings and Facebook

sycamoreMy mother-in-law used to tell stories about when she was a child, growing up “dirt poor on a tomato farm” in Arkansas. One of my favorites is about how they were visited by their “city cousins.” The siblings devised a number of absurd and not completely safe hazing activities, leveraging the naïveté of their cousins about how things worked in the country. A game they introduced was “riding the sycamore saplings” – in which the kids would bend a tall sycamore sapling down to the ground, have a cousin hold tight, and then let go of the young tree as it whipped back and forth in a frenzy of released energy. Miraculously no one was seriously injured as they were thrown to and fro, desperately holding onto the narrow trunk.

Today, I was the “city cousin” and my Facebook feed was the sycamore sapling.

I know that I should be working. I have a ton to do. This is the thing that happens when I’m obsessed with an idea – it won’t leave me alone and my brain just keeps turning it over, thinking about different angles… But I needed a break from my work-brain for a few minutes and I turned, of course, to Facebook.

Ah, Facebook. I go there now not for work as I once did, but as a normal person, using the site in a normal (though perhaps over-knowledgeable) way. I browse through my feed. I forget to check my inbound messages to see what I’ve missed. And I have that feeling of keeping up to date on the events in the lives of people I know, but am not close enough to that I actually talk to them often (or perhaps, not at all anymore).

My feed today had three events commemorated that in combination gave me the same feeling of thrash I imagine the city cousins once felt. Back and forth, waiting for the sapling to stop shaking.
First, I saw that a former colleague turns fifty today. I never in a million years would have guessed this man is FIFTY. I mean, I didn’t look equivalently as good as he does when I was twenty. Genetics and clean living, I suppose. There’s an outpouring of FB love headed his way. I actually adore those birthday post-floods. I think they’re kind of beautiful. I hope that he knows everyone is both happy for him and secretly envious of him. Heh.

Then, I saw a post from a friend who attended middle and high school with me. I haven’t spoken to her in years, but there’s always FB, keeping us in each others feeds, occasionally commenting on what’s happening in life. Today, she said goodbye to her son who has been valiantly battling cancer. I think he was fourteen. He’d been fighting for over two years – sometimes with amazing promise that he’d beaten it, then the disappointment of its recurrence. She shared that when she asked him how he wanted to be remembered, he said that he wanted people to remember that he loved everyone. When I read the post, my heart broke for them again. I don’t have kids, and I know I can’t imagine what her family is going through. But my heart broke nonetheless. Her post was open-hearted and loving, a beautiful tribute to her child. It was beautiful.

Just below the post by my friend, my Facebook feed had another post that tugged at the feels, but in a completely different way. A former colleague posted a picture of his new daughter, born this last night, perfect and adorable. I’m so happy for them, growing their family of two into a family of three. It’s a time full of anticipation and excitement… and it’s beautiful.

I hear people bitch all the time about how their Facebook feeds are full of crap and I believe them. Some days, they are. I’ve aggressively pruned mine over the years, sending “I don’t want to see this” feedback until the algorithm stops showing me whatever it is that won’t go away. Today, my feed was powerful in a way I couldn’t have ever predicted it would be. My gut felt the whip of the sapling, back and forth while I held on.

I felt.

It was beautiful.

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