Online Friends

Pamah’s husband died in January, Jinlong wrote a book, Wilken’s mom has been fighting breast cancer and Rayzur and Berdina just celebrated the birth of their most recent grand-baby.  I don’t “know” any of these people in real-life, in fact I only know one of them by their real name, but they are friends all the same and I have known all of them for at least three years.  We all play World of Warcraft, spending an evening a week working on the latest “puzzle and problem” of the “dungeons” in a “world” of shared imagination and experience while talking on the VoIP system and generally having a great time.

There is an odd nature to online friendships.  In games, on message boards, in the blog-sphere, you get to meet and know people and you find things in common and you enjoy them.  But they are not as close as real-life friendships, there is still a wall of separation – anonymity,  but they aren’t as messy or as much work as real life friendships either.  Years ago I saw a movie called 84 Charing Cross Road (a really terrible name for a movie) about two book lovers, one in Great Britain the other in the US who start corresponding over  books and become “pen-pals” and good friends yet they never meet.  I remember when I saw the movie that I wondered at forming a friendship through letters; so much of what makes people friends is shared experience, but it worked.  With the advent of the internet it is rather common place now.

There will always be those limiting factors to online friendships, and yes, it is somewhat easier to be “fooled” in online relationships of any type.  Which is why I guess I am leery of online romances.  Actually, I actively roll my eyes at them because my experience with them (both personally and observationally) is at best humorous.  There is always that way back somewhere in the back of the head thought that I am only seeing what others choose to show me.  I have seen so many total fakes online.  Especially on parenting sites sadly enough.  I have seen babies who were in critical condition that ended up not existing at all, community members who were in medical residency who ended up being college freshman – and more.  I have heard of many more than I have seen, one vivid one was the whole April Rose thing from last year which suckered so many in the Christian mommy-blog world but yet was most astounding part of that to me was that it made national news  — these reporters really are clueless, these things happen online all the time.

Online relationships suffer from but at the same time are blessed by the fact that so much is “fill in the blank”.  Since we can’t experience the person in real life we are forced to fill in those missing parts with imagination.  The facial expressions, the tone of voice, the look in the eye are all supplied by the receiver of the message.   It is the flip side of the main reason why online disagreements turn ugly so quickly – you don’t see the person on the other side of the screen, their “reactions” are supplied (or not) by your imagination.  If you are inclined to them being friendly towards you (or in love with you) you imagine what you wish reality to be.   So Pamah looks at me as a heartfelt friend, Jinlong smiles at my jokes and is glad to see me, to Wilken I am the aunt you can tell your troubles to and Ray and Berdy are good neighbors who always have a smile and a wave.   Which all sounds crazy in a way.  Since so much of the friendship is in my head if one or another drops offline I am not grieved, I think about them, wonder how they are from time to time, but I certainly don’t feel the same loss I would for someone I actually saw every week if they were to move away or end our friendship.

Despite their short comings online friendships are a general positive in my world.  I have met some of them and been very happy with the experiences in general.  When I heard of Pamah’s husband and Wilken’s mom I prayed for them, although it seems odd to pray for someone who’s name you don’t even know there is a thread of connection.  Too much I am sure for my poor brain to figure out, but my heart doesn’t have a problem with it at all.

84 Charing Cross Road


Why do we do this?

Korean Saints
Korean Saints

One of the things I love about being Catholic is that we belong to an eternal communion of Saints.   I know it might sound odd, or even a bit off-putting to those not of the Catholic faith, but for us papists time and space are compressed, we pray with the Apostles, the thief on the cross who acknowledged his Savior, with Mary Magdalen and the Virgin Mother and  a host of  those with forgotten names  who lived out blessed lives in obscurity and yet pray for us and with us from the feast of Heaven.   No matter when they lived, or how they died or where they were in life they are with us always and we are all before the throne of God in prayer now.

They are there, the Saints, in continual example of what we can and should be.   And we who are here on earth should all be working towards that end and helping one another along the path as best we can.  Which leads me to the thought that has been bugging me the past few days.  Why on earth, when we should be encouraging and helping one another do we seem to invest so much energy in pulling each other apart?

Now I understand on a psychological level why this happens, why we break into little subgroups and why we divide ourselves along nearly arbitrarily lines and why we are critical (sometimes to the point of cruelty) to those who violate what we establish to be norms.   The more strongly we feel something is important the more likely we are to become somewhat exclusionary around that topic, but I have seen several times where a group (of theoretically friends)  has literally torn itself apart over some rather minor disagreement of a practice or .  Homeschooling, Parenting and Faith groups  I think are all particularly susceptible to these kinds of breaks where some here-to-fore minor subject will become a point of disagreement and people will pick one side or the other and then things get ugly.  And by ugly I mean that it gets to the point where people are picked apart on a person level.

I would hope that in groups united by faith there would be more honest tolerance,  more personal responsibility and less us vrs them, but does not seem to be the case.   I have seen Catholic moms online go after each other quite heatedly (and even gotten involved in the craziness  myself) over some point or another.   Question like “head cover at mass or not”, “when is NFP ok”  or “Is some thing Catholic enough”  and the like.  Things one hesitates to call minor because they are important, but when compared to the totality of what we hold in common are they really that big a deal?  Big enough a deal to loose all sense of perspective?  Really I have no answers I just observe these things now, having learned long ago that only unhappiness can possible accompany participation and I pray for all involved, because I well know that most natural response to feeling attacked is to close off and protect one’s self.   If we really want to convert someone to our point of view we have to approach in gentleness and kindness.  Which leads me to think that all too often these arguments, disagreements, points of difference are much less about helping others see what we feel to be truth and really about making ourselves feel better about our own positions.


Just being Catholic

Last week I was at a meeting and the conversation was very interesting.  Why are there so very many practices within the Catholic faith – some of them common, others not quite as well known – and how is it that from parish to parish the understanding of these customs is so different.   I think in general it is a good thing to have such a huge array of possibilities before us, but it can be over whelming, especially to those who are new to the faith.   We have the Precepts of the Church so there is a standard of “basic” and that basic is a pretty good start.