Lessons Learned and Facebook

In this time and age, I would be hard pressed to name a family member or friend that doesn’t have a Facebook account. My husband doesn’t count. Technology is not his thing and sharing personal information and opinions is not his thing either. Other than him, I cannot mention anyone else off the top of my head!!!

When about 11 years ago, my daughter convinced me to give this new Social Media outlet a try, I would have sworn it was not going to last. Well, that is how much I know. I also refused to even consider investing in it.  So much for my powers of observation. Not only is Facebook thriving, it is so influential that it will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Which proves again, what do I know???

I will be remiss not to point out that most of the time I enjoy what comes and goes and passes for information, the personal opinions, the photos of family and friends that live far and wide. The pages that post uplifting messages that somehow fit a mood, a feeling, a moment. It can be fun and informative.

Unfortunately, as the mood in the world has turn to hate and division and more and more people feel free to express those feelings, Facebook has turned into a minefield. You need to be very careful what you say and pay attention to the smallest of details when expressing an opinion, talking about your feelings on a subject or just wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Thanksgiving or Happy Easter. What pictures you want to share, what you would anyone thinks about a page you like, the quote you posted or the people you admire.

Never mind the kind of news sites you prefer, the people you are voting for or anything about a controversial public figure. Everything is black and white and you must be very careful. How exhausting!!! It seems we not only have the government censoring what we can and cannot see, write or express….now everyone you have friended on Facebook feels they should do it too.

I am not even going to mention civil discourse (a very much dead concept at the moment), or differences of opinion, I am talking about plain bullying and plain intimidation if you as much as express the notion that things can and do have two or three sides to them. “Mine, yours and the truth in the middle” is what I believe. Apparently I belong to a growing group that has learned the hard way to keep their opinions to themselves. How very sad…..it seems the only freedom of expression we are allowed is the one our critics spouse.  Both sides of any issue are guilty of this.

So, back to the lessons I have learned on Facebook. At the beginning, I joked about the four wonderful concepts that this Social Media community has taught me were: Ignore, Remove, Delete and Unsubscribe. We were provided with such choices and with cute little signs for : Like, Love, Surprise, Sadness, Anger. Seemed simple enough, not really anymore, things are now very angry, very insulting, sometimes even dangerous.

If we only want to see and want to hear what we believe, we are not improving communication among our friends and family, or the community in general. If only our opinion is true, if we only hear what we want to hear, if we only engage with people who agree with us, we are bullying everyone else into falling in line or just pack up and leave. A very sad state of affairs, especially when it is not doing any good to society as a whole.

I write a blog about things I have learned and things I am still learning, Facebook provides a wonderful platform for this.  My hope is that out there someone agrees with me and will share my posts. Never my intention to impose or to think I know better. I am not holding my breath, but will continue to do what I think is right. It gives me pleasure.

Life is short. Everyday there are new challenges we must face, new sorrows to deal with, but also new happiness to share, new experiences we want to talk about. I want to feel comfortable with my friends and family, so I can do just that. Having a Facebook account has taught me many things, the ones I mentioned here are not the best ones. Fortunately, I hold hope that the good things about this site will eventually win the day.

P.S. You have to have some rain to enjoy the rainbow: photo by my niece Ana Gregoria

 

Lessons Learned and Extended Family

I come from a very large family. My mother had eight brothers and sisters. Growing up there were twenty-eight cousins to deal with, play with, spend vacations with. It was amazing. Those cousins did their part and we had twenty-three children among ourselves. Not bad, I would say, since seven of us did not have children. Nowadays, the cousins are having grandchildren: nine and counting.

As with any family, there have been disagreements, arguments, differences of opinion along the way. Somehow we managed to stay in touch and function as a family for decades. Much had to do with our mother. She was the eldest sister and always made sure everyone kept their cool and stay in the bosom of the family. Hard work indeed, we now realize.

For my sisters and I, living for years away from Panama, it was a comfort that she had her extended family around her, keeping her company.  They kept her engaged and occupied when we couldn’t. Somehow, we were looking at the situation in a very different way than the rest of the family. I have always been a bit detached, not quite fitting in, but happy to see everyone and enjoy family time when I visited. My sister Laura was very involved, visiting regularly and taking her children to get acquainted with her side of the family. Ana was more distant, but this didn’t stop her from visiting and doing the family thing.

We thought everything was fine and our mother was happy. We were grateful.  She visited us often, came to all her grandchildren’s special occasions, travel with us for fun. Our relationship was wonderful and we treasured out times together. Without ever telling us, her family thought we were not doing enough. What to do? Isn’t this something every family goes through? We were sure of that, so we didn’t give it a second thought.

On December 31st, 2006, our mother suffered a massive stroke. She was almost 83 years old, active, full of life and so much fun. We were expecting her to enjoy good health well into her nineties as women in her family have done for generations. It was not to be. In a matter of minutes, all that changed.

That it has been a long and arduous road, it’s an understatement. That we have discovered that our extended family is not what we thought, it’s a sad truth. Consequently, my sisters and I have grown very close. There is now a bond so strong, we can read our thoughts!!! They are my closest friends because we have shared so much. We are there for each other unconditionally and I am very fortunate to have them in my life. Would not know what to do without them.

Still, we all need more than the small circle of our immediate family. It is a human trait, we need company, we need people around us to help us carry on. So here is what I have learned. Family is what you make it. Blood ties are not always what bounds us to people and what make us think of them as family.

Family is the people you have near you, the ones that are there when you need a hand, a shoulder to cry on, a hug, a smile, an understanding ear. Family is the ones that run to you when you are sad, take charge when you need comfort, let you grief in peace, rejoice with you when you are happy, do not ask questions until you are ready to talk and support your decisions even if they do not agree with them.

Family, in other words, is so much more than common ancestors. Family is a support system that helps you navigate the difficult times and is there to celebrate with you on the happy ones. Family is behaving in the same manner and reciprocating the love, attention and support you receive. Family is a feeling you share with those around you.

As I have grown older, I realize the importance of an extended family. Who would fill this role? In the years I have lived away from Panama, in different places and cultures, I have been so lucky to have found some wonderful friends. We have shared  experiences, being there for each other at difficult moments. They have seen me cry and share my sorrows, they have seen me laugh and share my happiness. They are now scattered on all corners of the world; we do not see each other often, some of us just  keep in touch once a year, but I know I can call, email, present myself at their door and it will be fine. I am grateful to each and every one of them. This is the other powerful lesson I have learned: these friends are part of my extended family!!!

On Chasing Ghosts and Becoming One…..

34ct4906Yesterday I had lunch with a dear friend, she is moving back to Curaçao. She has had it with the hectic life in Miami and decided, very wisely, that she should go home. Now, for me, home is where I am at the moment. This is the result of having lived most of my life away from the country of my birth. Understandably, I am jealous. We all want to go back, at one point, don’t we? but go back where? to find what? and why?

For generations, people used to stay in their own countries, the same city, town, village. There was no moving far, no marrying foreigners or studying abroad. That is a world long gone. Nowadays, we move from here to there, marry into other cultures and move to other countries for work. Where we are born, where we live or where we work are completely different places, for some the last two change constantly. So how do we keep family and friends close? and it is possible?

For years, I have followed:  Nomadic Matt. A blog by a young man from Boston who has traveled around the world documenting his adventures. He said he has made friends everywhere, shared experiences with so many during the years he has traveled the world; but doesn’t want to go back to those places thinking to relive the experiences or meet the same people. Going back, in that sense would be like chasing ghosts, he writes. I understand this, so clearly: you cannot go back, make it as it was, no matter how hard you try.

When you moved around, leaving your own country and becoming a citizen of the world, you keep some friends, always. The ones that you can share your secrets with, the ones you have fun with, the ones you can cry with. They are always there, in your heart, and you miss them. When you meet them, you pick up the thread of your lives with ease. Of course, you remember the others you met along the way, the ones that are glad to see you when you visit and whose company you enjoy when you meet. You are glad for what you shared, but do not miss them….not really. There are also the ones you remember occasionally, but never see again.

Then it is the matter you know so well: out of sight, out of mind. The same thing happens to you. For many, you become the one friend people miss and think of fondly. The one they want to keep in touch with. For others, you’re the one people remember at times, the one they are glad to see only occasionally. You have no control over this, it’s just how it is. The only thing that is certain is that for most people you have met, you become a ghost. As they become ghosts for you! How truthful…..

Talking to Joan, I realized this is happening again! It is a cycle and it repeats itself in our lives. Our friends move away, or we move away. We get involved in our new home and we make a new life.  Our friends will do the same, it’s just how it is. So if you are chasing ghosts, remember that we cannot recreate what we had…even home will feel new!  It is all part of this life we have chosen. So home is where we make it! We must enjoy everything when it happens, then keep the memories, share them, treasure them. They enrich our lives like nothing else.