by Kim C. Flodin
I grew up in a small suburban town nestled on the Great South Bay in Long Island, New York, a short ferry ride to the lovely beaches of Fire Island. I graduated with about 200 kids, intimate enough to know everyone's names, big enough to not know everyone intimately. As often happens with teens, the class of '79 largely socialized within defined groups. While I remained lifelong friends with some from my bookish crowd, the jocks, cheerleaders, and theater geeks were lost to me as the years swept us away from Bellport High.
That is, until 2009 when I heard plans for a 30th reunion were brewing on Facebook. Up to then, I had resisted the site, worried it would turn into a time suck from my workday. But I never could resist a party, so I logged on.
They were all there, those I left at graduation. Behind each name and face was a story waiting for me to dig in. Time management be damned, I poured over those profiles. Robbie and Larry of my adolescence became attorneys and proper Rob and Lawrence. Other "new" friends were teachers, landscapers, engineers, doctors, librarians, nurses, and yoga instructors. Together, our class represented every family demographic imaginable: married, divorced, widowed, single, straight, gay, child-free, parents, stepparents, and grandparents. Many of us lived within an hour's drive of our old school. Those who moved largely clung to a coastline whether it was in New England or Florida, as photos of our undying love of beaches and boats showed.
We weighed in on each other's every move — "liking" photos of prized pets, news of triathlon successes, home renovations, and Caribbean vacations. I wager none of us felt as validated by such a variety of kids back in school as we did on Facebook.
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Unexpected ties formed beyond the thumbs-up icons. The cheerleader whose path I never crossed but for one stray Social Studies class sent her firstborn to college just as I sent mine. We bolstered each other through private Facebook messages. A quiet student became a retired military man, a father of a disabled child and a lay priest with the most touching insights on patience and compassion. While I never discussed politics with the sweet guy I partied with in 1979, on Facebook we found comforting solidarity in our mutually liberal posts. Another student became a leader in his community and a staunch conservative. On Facebook, we infuriate each other regularly, but we also argue our positions with respect. I, for one, am thankful I'm not always talking in an echo chamber.
The years rolled on and the online ties deepened. We rejoiced over the arrival of a long-awaited adopted daughter, congratulated each other on promotions, checked in when hurricanes headed someone's way, and sent broken-hearted emojis and heartfelt advice when tragedies were announced. When we turned 50, my feed was chock-full of photos of cruises, elaborate surprise parties, skydiving celebrations and the arrival of the damned AARP cards.
Faced with 55 this year, we are much quieter. This birthday has no friendly round 0; it is heavy, disquieting, inconceivable to the teens we once were. Unrealistic to say, "Only half-way there," when we passed that point. Silly to post, "I'm still young!" when the camera establishes unequivocally we no longer are. In denial to pronounce, "I"m not a wee bit afraid," when we mourn too many classmates who already have died from disease and bad luck.
But it's surprisingly meaningful to type year after year, "Happy birthday!" to the kid who once passed you notes in chemistry. I have never been more grateful for Facebook and the renewed friendships it gifted me. It's a second chance to care for each other with kindness, empathy, and maturity. The site is a comforting reminder that while I'm rocketing on this journey way too fast, I'm not going it alone.
Kim C. Flodin is a Brooklyn writer who specializes in parenting, health, and family issues. Her personal essays have been published in The New York Times, Newsweek Magazine, and The Christian Science Monitor among others. She also helps many hospitals in the New York City metropolitan area communicate with their patients, communities, and employees. Last, but not least, she is the mother of three young adult daughters.