A few days ago, I happened upon a tweet from an online friend. I could tell that his cup of contentment was brimming, and unexpectedly so. Did he win a cash prize? Did an underdog team that he rooted for, win a game? Did he bump into a celebrity? No, no, no. Someone close to him had shared something deeply personal and sensitive with him and he felt honored as a result. His tweet made me smile. Sometimes that is all it takes to make us feel good about this world, right? That we matter to someone in a way that they matter to us. As I reflected more on his tweet, I realized that the feeling that he described was an important one. That the sentiment he expressed was something I felt the urge to dwell on. Why was that so?
Be it technological innovations or tools that enable increased connectivity, they are only what we make of them. They ‘enable’ connectivity, they don’t make the connections. I could have access to a friend at the touch of a button on my phone. But it is up to me to make time to chat or talk, to send a message or place a call. Bleedingly obvious? Yes. Do we think about it enough? I don’t know, you tell me. This is a fast-paced world, no doubt. As director Cheran beautifully expressed in a scene with Sneha in Autograph, we spend an overwhelming majority of our waking hours to earn for our sustenance. As work hours expand, as commitments increase, as distances grow, it becomes triply difficult to truly make the time to talk with and listen to people that had once been a much more integral part of our lives. When we shared a school, college, workplace or at least a reasonably proximal place of existence, the amount of time spent was something that we didn’t have to work towards with much difficulty. Circumstances favored us.
As distances grow, the heart is supposed to grow fonder. In reality, the mind becomes busier. Noble intentions notwithstanding, our actions seem to focus on the present, our roles and responsibilities personally and professionally. The people that once formed a part of our core might still feel very important to us but the reality is, they are in a concentric, outer circle. Even if for simple reasons such as logistics and distance, they are in an outer circle even if we convince ourselves otherwise. But here is the silver lining. At the center of these concentric circles is our core, our character and the values that we stand for. For those people physically distanced from us, if we truly care for them and genuinely want them to feel a sense of belonging, we can indeed do it. It requires time and commitment but it is not impossible.
What I am about to say now is not meant to be a one-size-fits-all pronouncement. It is what I believe in. For me, to not have a shared present is a gaping lacuna that cannot be filled by once-in-a-blue moon meetings. I know of a lot of people that say that even if they meet someone after five years, they can pick up from where they left off. I don’t think I have ever been able to develop that mindset. I agree that chemistry of a strong relationship can be rekindled in one special moment – a laugh, an anecdote, a hug. But when the transience of that colorful rainbow is preceded and succeeded by periods of darkness, it is hard for me to just bask in the fleeting beauty of the moment. I prefer the constancy of a sky- as nondescript as it may be, it has more permanence.
So, how do we evoke the feeling of being there for a person when we are not there, physically? The answer is in my question. It is by being there. It is by sharing meaningful moments – thank you, technology; you have a role here – inclusive of some highs, some lows, some laughs, some memories. Just something that is beyond a mere show reel of highlights of our lives, the kind of which floods social media platforms. By sharing meaningful moments from our lives, we do two things – we give the other person a sense of importance. And by sharing, we might, in fact, spur the other person to open up about something, whatever that may be, that they might not have otherwise shared. For someone to speak up, they must have the unconscious assurance that the other person is listening with their ears and their heart. I will hasten to add that I do believe in the saying that “there are certain chapters in our life that we don’t want to read aloud.” There will be “chapters” that we hold private for a variety of reasons. That goes without saying and that is why I said, "some" highs and lows, not 'all'. But if the other person has no access to any meaningful chapters in our ‘book’, then I wonder whether what is shared is a book or merely a cover.
As I reflect on my dear friend who passed away unexpectedly three weeks ago, I am grateful that in his short life, he gave me the strong sense that I mattered. It is the same feeling that made my online friend tweet about someone who had just shared something personal with him. These are the relationships to cherish, to savor, to salute. Because, at times, life feels short. Literally so. In the case of my friend, he was never the rarity in my life that was a rainbow. He was the sky that watched over me during times of sunshine and gloom. Now that he has left the earth, I can continue to look up at the sky, knowing that he is continuing to watch me from up above.