Philosophical possibilities aside (because I know that there are many passages I could bring in here), I’ve been wanting to mention one thing that has really been on my mind over the past couple of weeks.
There’s a really good chance that you are part of it. Seriously.
Because what I’ve been paying attention to are the many instances, minutes, and days in which thoughts of other people are present to me. Most likely, all of this occurs unbeknownst to those who cross my mind. I imagine that many, many people would be surprised to know how often I actually think of them. Once I started paying attention to it, it even surprised me. I’m talking about strangers, friends from 10 years ago who I no longer talk to (in fact, lots of people with whom I’ve seemed to lose touch), peers from high school, teachers, students, friends of friends, people I’ve never actually met but whose path I’ve crossed enough to recognize their bags, and of course, family members, loved ones, friends, and acquaintances. I often think of people who I’ve never had the chance to meet but whose stories I’ve heard, as well as (of course!) those who make their way into my stories. And there are those who I don’t simply conjure up in my memory but who I literally see throughout any given day. When I’m sitting in a coffee shop or watching people walk by me, I wonder how many of them are aware of the fact that I am aware of them.
That is what all of this comes down to: Recognition. Acknowledgment. Consideration. Awareness.
This has come up for me pretty strongly lately in part because I have had the great fortune of being contacted by lots of people over these past couple of months. Just last week I was taken aback by the amount of birthday wishes that I received from people on Facebook alone. And over the summer, I’ve received numerous messages from strangers on the Internet, while others say when we formally meet, “I’ve seen you walking around campus before…” These are some of the ways that indicate when and how others think of you. Just think of all of the mini thoughts that we have of people which seem to leave no trace…
Sometimes it’s heartening to hear from others. Sometimes it’s humbling. Sometimes it’s surprising, and yes, sometimes it’s kind of weird to find out that people have “noticed” you before. But the vast majority of the time, I think it’s important to know that you were on someone’s mind, because it helps one to better appreciate how connected we actually are and recognize that even in times when we might feel isolated, disconnected, or alienated, it has to be trusted that you are significant enough to be remembered and recognized by someone, somewhere. We see each other more than we let on, I think. We notice lots more than what others are probably aware. We remember so much, too. A lot of the time, I think it’s because we really do care.
So I’ve been wondering what it might mean if other people could somehow know that someone else remembered, considered, and acknowledged them. Even if it was just for a second. I’ve imagined what it would be like if it was possible to keep a running tally of all the people who worked their way into my conscious awareness in one day and then share it in such a way that they would know that someone, somewhere, was (unexpectedly?) thinking of them. Sure, there might be something valuable on its own about appreciating “traceless thoughts” and letting them stay that way, but my sense is that there are lots of people who don’t give themselves enough credit, who underestimate their significance in the world, who seem to think that no one cares about their existence. And I think that it would be really cool if, at least for just one instance, they could be shown otherwise.
Despite all of the frustrations that people might have about social media and the way that Facebook, Twitter, and other online-whatevers have degraded our ability to communicate, to know what “real” connection means, to maintain substantive relationships with others, and to participate in genuine human interaction, I am rolling with the changes that they bring. Sure, these parts of our lives have been dramatically transformed, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.
What if we weren’t afraid to reveal that we were “stalking” someone on Facebook and actually went ahead and “Liked” something that they posted? Then they would know that we’re following and paying attention.
What if we just sent a text that said, “Hi. Thought of you today. I really hope you’re doing well.” to one of those long-lost someones in our contact list?
What if we went back to writing letters? Because we can.
What if I finally stopped those two guys who I’ve seen for months and years (respectively) and told them that I love the style and attitude with which they walk around the streets of this fake little town–that they liven it up in a really wonderful way?
And then there are those people with whom we can’t connect in tangible ways…
What if we could let those who have passed know that we are still thinking of them?
What if we could tell their family members that the loss of their loved one brought us to tears, too, and that we are heartbroken right along with them?
What if we could reach out in lots of ways and let others know?
In large part, it probably comes down to time. We may just not have have enough time to let others know that they crossed our mind. It’s probably more so the case that we are too uncomfortable to break through whatever boundaries keep our thoughts traceless.
But just imagine. How cool would it be if…..
Yet even as I write, I am hesitant to put down specific names of those from just today. I know that the list would be necessarily incomplete. But even in acknowledging its partiality, it’s almost too daunting to attempt. I want to. I really do. I just haven’t figured out how yet. (And there’s probably something important to be learned from that…) Or maybe one of these days it will become it’s own project.
For now, suffice it to say that, someone, somewhere, has probably thought of you today.
On a more specific note from me, thank you to those who let me know that you were thinking of me, too. Thanks for the messages, the calls, the chats, the video messages, the texts, the meeting-ups for hugs and “hello’s.” I’ve got mad love for you all.