A few months ago my sister and I put together a birthday tribute for our mother who was turning 80. We collected video messages from friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors from her long life. We were overwhelmed with a response of over 85 submissions. Some people were so eager to toast Mom that they sent two video clips instead of one.
Since making that video I’ve been thinking about who would show up for my 80th birthday tribute. I’m not the amazing correspondent my mom is and, even before COVID, I’m wasn’t great at maintaining all of my friendships. Just this morning I made a list of five close friends I haven’t spoken to lately, and that’s just people who are local. My contact with my high school and college friends is abysmal.
I find myself in a self-proclaimed popularity contest that isn’t based in reality. I have some friends who I’ve moved away from. It’s not that anything necessarily happened to dissolve our friendship. It’s just time. Enough time going by not calling or texting or emailing that it no longer feels important. It feels apparent that neither one of you really wants to connect, so you both stop trying. Eventually, the juice that fed the friendship engine is all dried up.
When I think of those eight-five people who showed up for Mom’s video, I think mostly about the energy it must have taken my mom to sustain all of those relationships over all of those years. I don’t think I have that kind of energy.
When my mom was seventy, I collected letters from her friends and compiled them into a scrapbook. That project was smaller and much easier. Ten years ago we didn’t have the social media platforms or the proliferation of easily accessible contact information on the internet. I just went by stories my mom had told me about different people in her life and contacted them through email. For the video we made this year, my sister used Facebook and Instagram and sleuthed through friends of friends of friends to generate a comprehensive list.
By the time I’m eighty, there will probably be a chip in my head that can be remotely accessed to generate a list of people I’ve been a good friend to in the past five years. Maybe it will have colors- Green for those I’ve been in regular contact with, Yellow for intermittent, and Red for not at all.
Since creating my mom’s video I have thought about whether I’m creating enough green. Lately, it feels like my cache or yellow and red is way bigger than the green. I wonder how long (or short) my list will be when I’m 80?