Earlier this week, Facebook let me know that it was the birthday of a colleague from my TV post-production days in the 70s. When I went to her page, I saw her brother’s name there and was reminded that he and I had communicated for a while some years ago. Apart from the TV world connection, we had both grown up in New York and gone to the same high school, though not at the same time. I was five years ahead of him, which meant something back then.
So I moved on to his Facebook page, scrolling through his various jobs and places he’s lived. The profile photo was clearly an older one, but he looked like someone I’d like to know. Our acquaintance back in the old days was limited to parties and when he’d come by after work to get his sister. To be honest, other than his name, I really didn’t remember him.
There are people like that, people I know I knew but can’t picture at all. Then there are the ones I don’t even know I knew, though I totally believe that I did. I’ve never had a good memory and it’s certainly not improving with age. I rely on my oldest friend for pieces of my history, and there’s an old boyfriend who I’m sure remembers way more than I would like. So it’s reassuring to know that there are people who hold pieces of my past.
I kept scrolling through an impressive list of jobs and places lived. Hollywood, Paris, Boston. Then it said, Hennepin County. Minneapolis. I felt like the universe was giving me a present. There’s someone in this city in which I am a stranger with whom I share a professional background and my home city and even my high school. Is he married, single, gay, straight? It doesn’t matter, though single and straight could have their advantages (also, disadvantages). I went to Messenger and found our back and forth from 2009. It had petered out, as these Facebook conversations often do, but I felt perfectly comfortable writing him a short note saying how pleased and surprised I am that we’ve both landed here in Minneapolis.
After I hit “Send,” I had the strangest feeling, like my note was tied to a stone that had just sailed out into the void of deep space. Even on social media, one gets vibes and I definitely got the absent vibe. It didn’t look like he’d posted anything since March and, looking more closely at his sister’s page, she looked pretty absent too.
I googled him. He’d had a couple of exquisite photographs of the lake I now walk a few times a week published on a local church’s website. Maybe I could find him through the church. The more I thought about our shared background and interests (after perusing his page a little more, crows were added to the list), the more excited I got about our getting together. When we move to a new place, especially when one is older and no longer working in one’s field, we’re a blank slate to those we meet. It would feel so good to spend time with someone who knew me when.
Then, yesterday, I dug a little deeper on his Facebook page. That old profile picture had comments attached to it. Comments like, “You taught me so much,” and, “You lived an amazing life,” and, “You will be missed.” The reason he hadn’t posted since March suddenly became clear. The old profile picture was there as a form of a tribute.
I felt stunned when I realized he’s gone. He had been coming so vividly alive to me through his photographs and his posts. I could see us walking our shared lake and talking about our shared interests. I know that those who actually knew him miss the man he was and that my loss pales beside theirs. But the loss of possibility is a poignant reminder of the losses we are all facing, especially as we age. I have too many conversations with my peers that include reports of sick siblings or spouses or friends, or their own medical challenges.
It is frightening to venture out into hope at this age, but without hope, the world is a very dark and lonely place indeed. Yesterday, it was 7 degrees when I walked the lake I had looked forward to sharing with a new old friend. The cold wasn’t as chilling as the sadness I felt for the loss of that friend. But I keep walking. And hoping.