Yesterday was the first birthday I've had since joining Facebook and it was a pretty remarkable experience, both good and bad. The good part was that I received over a hundred happy birthday wishes from friends, family, and former students. I heard from people from my home town in Arkansas that I haven't seen in decades. Former students of mine from Northwestern State University, St. Mary's College and McCook Community College wished me a happy birthday as well as current students and friends in and around McCook. So that part was very heartwarming and I responded to each and every one of them.
On the other hand, I was surprised and a little disappointed by the ones I didn't hear from. For those of you who aren't familiar with the way Facebook works, the names of people having birthdays on any particular day shows up on the right hand side of the screen. If you want to wish them a happy birthday, you just click on the name and send them a message. It's a very easy thing to do. No going to the store and spending long periods of time trying to find the perfect card; no envelopes or stamps and no trips to the post office. All you have to do on Facebook is point, click, and type.
Now everyone doesn't check Facebook every single day so it's easy to understand why I didn't hear from those people but several of my "friends" were on Facebook yesterday and I didn't hear from them either so that's the disappointing part.
One of them was a person I admired enough from a nearby town that I wrote a column about them a few years ago. Another was a student who took the first classes I taught when I moved to McCook and started teaching at MCC. Others were former students who spent hours and hours in my office when they were here and, because of that, they were not only my students but also became my friends.
I'm a pretty optimistic guy who usually sees the glass as half full rather than half empty but that's really not the case in this instance. Those who didn't take the time to do a simple mouse click and write a few words to me on my special day reminded me that the world is often different than we want it to be or that we perceive it to be.
Sometimes our friends are friends in name only. They engage us when we're with them and talk about us when we're not.
When I was the educational coordinator of a regional mental health facility in Arkansas, I went around to junior and senior high schools in the state giving talks about the value of true friends and how we never have as many as we think we do. I talked about how there's a vast difference between a friend and an acquaintance because a friend picks you up rather than pushes you down. A friend enjoys your victories rather than being jealous of them. A friend wants you to be happy, even if your happiness takes you away from them. And, most importantly, when you lie down to take your last breath, if it takes more than the fingers on one hand to count the number of true friends you've had in your life, you're truly a blessed person.
So, as I was responding to each person yesterday who took the time to wish me a happy birthday, that speech I gave to thousands of kids at hundreds of schools came rushing back to my consciousness, reminding me once again what true friendships are and what they mean.
So when I lie down for the last time and evaluate my life as I'm making the transition from one world to another, I'll count my blessings because it WILL take more than the fingers on one hand for me to count the true friends I've had in my life but, at the same time, I'll be reminded that many of the people I thought were my friends weren't.
And that's an important lesson for all of us to learn.
Tomorrow is the birthday of the best friend I've ever had so happy birthday to her.