When Facebook Isn't Enough: A Guilt Trip From Irene

Susan Etkind  Follow

My friend’s wife called me Monday night to chastise me for not checking in with her husband, one of my oldest friends, who lives by the beach in Milford, Conn. They had been forced to evacuate before Irene hit and she was right. I hadn’t spoken to him before, during or after the storm.

Of course, I had thought about them. But my friend had posted on Facebook that he had gone to a hotel in Poughkeepsie -- as far as he could get from Irene -- and his wife had taken their dog and two cats and gone to stay with her mother and stepfather in Waterbury.

On the phone Monday, she said everyone was fine but their house had been flooded. All the floors have to be ripped up, the house needs to dry thoroughly and new floors need to installed. There’s no firm date for when they can go back. It will be at least several weeks and probably longer.

I hung up the phone feeling guilty. Granted, I had lost power for almost two days and my cell phone reception wasn’t restored until Monday night. But those are inconveniences, not excuses. What I realized was that I had relied on a one-paragraph Facebook posting to assess my friend’s situation -- without even fully realizing I’d done it -- and turned my attention to other things.

I felt like a bad friend. But I’m not. Really. I have friends from grade school through graduate school and from practically every job I’ve ever had. I’ve had many of the same friends for decades. I’m loyal to them and they’re loyal to me. We’ve been there for each other through celebrations, crises and everything in between.

Except I clearly fell down on the job during Irene. I mistook a Facebook post, one that I didn't even respond to, as communication. I called my friend last night and he was understandably depressed. He wasn't angry that I hadn't called; he was relieved to know my family and I were OK.

Nonetheless, I am humbled by the experience. Did it really take a hurricane for me to realize that truly caring for the people we love isn’t writing or responding to some slapdash post, tweet or text? It’s hard to show you care, or feel cared for, if communications are one-dimensional, composed speedily and read quickly.

Whether it’s picking up the phone to actually hear how someone is feeling, babysitting their kids, providing a place to stay, cooking a meal, joining a clean-up crew or being a real – not virtual – shoulder to cry on, I know I can do better.

I’m wondering if anyone else learned a similar lesson from Irene about how to better reach and support the people you love. CJP  

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