Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, March 05, 2010

Blessings of Being "Friended"

by Kerry Blair

I have a good friend who is totally anti-social when it comes to networking via Internet. She uses her computer every day to work, explore areas of interest, and even shop. She will not, however, give out her e-mail address to anybody she knows personally. The mere mention of Facebook makes her blanch. My friend believes strongly that while the Internet was ordained of God to expedite temple work and allow the Church to put up a website, all the e-mail, blogs, comments-on-news-articles and, especially, networking sites like Facebook were insinuated into the Web by Satan to fracture our society of saints and lead us to perdition. Thus, anyone who wants to communicate with her must write a letter, show up at her door, or—on a good day—call her on the phone. (Some days she mistrusts even the telephone. Certainly cell phones are evil, and you don’t want to get her started on texting and/or Twitterpating.)

You have to admit she makes some valid points. I’m not convinced I have 500 friends in the whole world, let alone on Facebook. Also, that site can be quicksand into which hours disappear without notice or fruition. Furthermore, I do too often send my friends, and even my kids, an e-mail rather than going out of my way to speak to them. (Heck, I’ve been known to IM my daughter to avoid walking all the way down the hall to her room.) Worse (?), I do communicate more with people I’ve never met in person—or maybe only actually seen once or twice—than I do talking over the back fence with my neighbor. (And I love my neighbor!) It’s also true that many of you know me much better than anybody in my ward.

That all seems pretty bad, but is it? Are we becoming less responsive to the people around us because we put so much time and effort into people “out there” in cyberspace? By use of the Internet, are we cultivating friendships that can’t sustain us in this life, nor enrich us in the life to come? Should we turn off the computers and turn toward the nearest “real” people we can find?

I was struggling with those questions—or at least considering them—before last week. As you may recall, seven days ago I had a total (and rather embarrassing) meltdown right here before your eyes. Simultaneously, I was telling anyone who asked me in person that I was “Fine. Really. Just fine. Thanks.” I admitted this to my friend who promptly pronounced it the stupidest thing she’d ever heard in her life. (For what it is worth, I think I hold positions two and three on that list as well.) But, you know what, it turned out to be one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. I’ve felt better this week than I have in months, possibly better than I have the last couple of years. At first I couldn’t understand it, and then, with the aid of the Spirit, I could. Elder Maxwell often said that “prayer is the most efficacious thing one mortal being can do for another.” Don’t deny it, people. You prayed for me, didn’t you?

While I do believe that praying for people we don’t know has some value—hence the prayer rolls in the temple—I know for a fact that pleas offered up on behalf of a loved one, whether family or friend, can alter the course of a life. I have no doubt that the faithful prayers of good-hearted, intuitive people like Julie and Jennie helped to protect my youngest son in Iraq. He experienced miracles that could not have come about without someone, somewhere seeking divine intervention in his behalf. I know, too, that my life has been blessed beyond my current comprehension by people I have come to cherish by way of “social networking via Internet.” By you in other words.

I also believe that the Internet sometimes allows us to reconnect with people we knew and loved in the before-here. Almost a decade ago, upon publication of my second novel, I received an incredibly nice e-mail from a fellow Covenant author who lived in England. I wrote back. She wrote back. Weeks passed. It turns out that after a lifetime of yearning for a little sister, I had one! (She’d unfortunately been confused at birth and therefore ended up on the other side of the globe.) I’ve loved Anna forever—I know I have—and how incredibly grateful I am not to have had to spend mortality without her in my life.

I feel the same way about a few others. I have a circle of sisters now. Only a couple of them happen to live in my state. (Although one has come miles and miles and miles to visit. Today! I’m so excited I can’t stand it!) These women couldn’t be any dearer to me if we attended the same family reunions or lived on the same block. I am equally grateful for the brothers-of-the-heart the Lord has sent into my life through the miracle of modern communication. (Even if one of them chooses to remain mostly anonymous, one of them knows everything, and another tends to whine and wheedle for casseroles. Now that I think about it, a fourth is great at commenting, but not so great at coming through with that book he promised me a couple of years ago; also he stands me up at really important events.)

Anyway, while I probably haven’t made 500 friends, the fraction who haven’t given up on me are cherished. I’ll tell you a secret. Every single Friday for the past year I’ve either gritted my teeth to blog—or else studiously avoided the computer on one flimsy excuse or another so I wouldn’t have to “face” you. The truth is that being here makes me feel like a fraud. Every Friday I tell myself that I either need to slink away or ask the gang to rename the blog. (Something like Five LDS Writers and a Frog and a Fan of the Aforementioned would work.) But I haven’t done it because I’m frankly too selfish. Leaving the Frog Blog would be worse than moving away from an area I love. I have so many friends here; people who teach me and inspire me and make me laugh—often all at once. People who pray for me. People who come all the way from Yuma and Utah and Hawaii and Idaho and even Germany (!) to stay with me. That is real friendship, any way you define it.

Still, I don’t have to have spend actual physical time with Sandra to know I’d love to go shopping with her. (Hats!) I don’t have to look into Marta’s, Karlene’s, and Sheila’s eyes to know their hearts. I don’t have to be in a weekly writing group with Anne, Tristi, Annette, Stephanie, Alison or Heather to be deeply influenced by their gifts. I don’t even have to know LT’s or UTMomof4’s names to know I’d love to live next door to them. Hmm. I think the only person who left a comment last week that I’ve missed thus far in this blog is Rachel/Margaret, and her I do get to see at family reunions!

Please know how deeply grateful I am for all your comments last week. (I’m trying to respond personally and privately, but I’m slow—especially at finding e-mail addys.) But before I get back into Internet communication, I think I’ll send a snail-mail. I want to print out this blog and mail it to the well-intentioned woman I mentioned in the first paragraph. She obviously has no idea what she misses by keeping her circle of friends within arms reach. Thanks to the Internet, and to the Father of us all, we don't have to touch to be touched.


12 Comments:

At 3/05/2010 11:15 AM, Blogger Jennie said...

Kerry, as usual, you've expressed my ambivalent feelings toward social networking better than I could. It's so important to hold onto and cherish relationships with flesh and blood friends and family members, but there are many positive aspects to having "500 Facebook friends" too. Some of the friends I've found on the internet are as precious to me too as people in my ward. (Some are people in my ward and I love being able to make quick comments we don't have time for on Sunday). Over the years I've received so much love and support from friends in far places, people I'll probably never meet in person in this life, but I'm so glad we didn't miss each other ompletely. I've met some unkind stinkers too, and I'm glad I can simply cross them off my list of friends without having to bump into them at Relief Society. I also find it kind of nice to be able to share something with family and friends once, instead of having to repeat it in dozens of time-consuming phone calls and I can save the phone calls for when we both have time to chat.

 
At 3/05/2010 11:47 AM, Blogger Melanie Goldmund said...

Kerry, please don't leave the blog! I look forward to Fridays in the hope that you'll write something -- anything. But now I feel guilty for asking you to do something that makes you grit your teeth and struggle. I still want you to stay, though, for selfish reasons. (I've always been selfish, I just try to hide it most of the time.) However, I did pray for you.

I like communicating on the internet. I feel my life and my writing career have both been blessed because of my participation on blogs like these with people like you and the others here, or various forums. Not Facebook, though. There's something about the idea of Facebook that makes me shudder with horror. I don't know why, but I just don't like it.

I'm glad you're feeling better, and I hope it continues. :-)

 
At 3/05/2010 12:04 PM, Blogger Taffy said...

Awesome post! I have communicated with friends I haven't seen in 20 years and probably won't see ever. But we can 'talk' via internet.

 
At 3/05/2010 5:54 PM, Blogger Marta O. Smith said...

If not for the internet, I would be almost a complete hermit, emerging only for church meetings, trips to the grocery store, and expeditions to the library. The internet has allowed me to connect with like-minded people. This in turn has made me more comfortable with actually speaking to more people in person.

 
At 3/05/2010 5:55 PM, Blogger Daron D. Fraley said...

Kerry,

TWO THUMBS UP for this post. I agree whole-heartedly with your sentiments about friends online.

In fact, I need to thank you again. In July of 2008, you invited me to be a guest blogger here. My own blog was very new, and I was still trying to find my place in the publishing world. That post made a huge difference in my confidence level, and I gained many friends because of it. THANK YOU.

My prayers are with you!

 
At 3/06/2010 4:44 PM, Blogger L.T. Elliot said...

Kerry, I'm seriously crying over here. (Of course, almost all of your writing does that to me.)

I've pondered this same thing before. I've questioned if the friendships I've made through social-networking are authentic or just an "easier path" so I don't have to physically socialize. But what I discovered is that many of the friendships that started in the wilds of the inter-spidey-web haven't stayed there. I've had the pleasure to meet many of them and have stretched out in ways I never believed myself brave enough to do. I feel enriched and edified by them. I've often wondered how I made it before their friendships.

Please don't ever leave the blog. (That goes for all of you contributors, you know!) You'll never know how often your words have given me peace or strength to make it even four more hours out of a horrendous day. In fact, last week's post I shared with my mother, who also has M.S., and I've seldom seen her touched so. Thank you. Thank you isn't even enough.

P.S. My name's Laura and I'd love to live next door to you, too.

 
At 3/06/2010 7:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very prettily said.

Pat

 
At 3/06/2010 7:50 PM, Blogger Deb said...

Communicating electronically can keep people very close. My youngest lives in Provo now, and I can text him and get an answer within seconds, making me feel like he’s just down the road and not in another state. Emailing can also be very therapeutic. When you don’t feel like talking to the person closest to you, (geographically speaking,) writing a cyber-friend, even one you’ve never met in person, can leave you feeling better than if you would have vegged out on the couch and downed that bag of sour cream and onion potato chips. (I would never do that. Honestly. [The eating the chips thing.] )

You probably do have the five hundred friends, Kerry, most likely do, and I’m truly one of them. Please remember that. We all love to hear from you even if it’s just updating your Facebook page (hey, there’s always hope) or posting on Fridays. I may not always comment, but I always read Friday's posts. How can I not?

 
At 3/07/2010 8:58 PM, Blogger Karlene said...

Great post. I love the Internet. It helps me keep connected to people I wouldn't normally be able to talk to.

And absolutely==the power of focused prayers are miraculous.

 
At 3/08/2010 3:11 AM, Blogger Sheila said...

Beautiful post Kerry! I know that my life has been so enriched by the people I have met on the internet. 11 years ago when my son was stillborn, I met a group of women that had gone through the same experience. We are all still close and supporting each other through good and sad times.

I also cherish the friends, like you, that are part of my ever growing writing world. I feel so inspired and hopeful as I read about your journeys.

I am so happy that this week was better for you. Always know that you are loved and prayers are being said in your behalf. You are not alone in your trials. A loving Heavenly Father makes sure that we are blessed in our lives with kind, supportive friends. I know I never would have made it through the past 18 months without love and support.

Sending you many ((((HUGS)))) ~~~Sheila

 
At 3/09/2010 8:07 AM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

Basically, what everyone else already said.

I figure if Elder Ballard gave a talk about why Mormons should be blogging, I think it's a good use of time--as long as it's kept in balance, of course. There's a point where the computer can take over your life, but for people like me who tend toward hermit-dom, it's a blessing.

I have close friends I first met online and now have "real" friendships with. There are others who I haven't met yet but who I still consider dear friends--people I love and pray for.

 
At 3/12/2010 11:08 AM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Thanks so very much for all the comments! I hereby promise to respond in a much timlier manner! Usually, I'm just so touched and grateful I think I'll wait until I have something better to say -- and that time never comes. So...thank you. And please forgive me.

Daron: you are AMAZING! I've waited so long for your book and am so very pleased it's almost here! How about another guest blog about the journey?

Deb: I can think of several reasons how you could not, but I'm so very grateful that you do!

 

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