Believing as I do that cats, like zucchini, are evidence against the divinity of Creation, I usually scroll right past any Facebook posts featuring a cat.
I slowed recently, however, when I came to a cat photo on the page of friend April Baumgarten. Her cat, Gus, was sleeping, and April wrote that Gus snores.
“It’s terribly adorable,” she gushed.
OK, I smiled.
My love-hate relationship with social media has deepened lately, mostly because of the worst of the back-and-forth over politics, race, statues and how we deal with the virus.
Some conservative friends have posted or sent directly to me thoughtful notes and articles that challenge me. I read them and think about them because they are framed with intelligence and respect. I am deeply disappointed, however, by the divide that has grown between me and other friends, people I’ve known and cherished since childhood. They are good and honorable people, but life has led them to see the world much differently than I do. The posted evidence of that personal chasm, even more than the insipid memes, harangues and dog-whistle racism of casual acquaintances and strangers, has me close to quitting all social media.
But old friends also have sent kind and gentle words via Facebook and text. I’d rather open my door and see their faces, or pull handwritten letters from my mailbox. But failing that, social media brings us together again, over time and great distance.
My disgust with all the bad is tempered by the delightful whimsy and serendipity of day-to-day life – “Forkers, where does a gal get some Haloumi cheese in town?” Nikki Berg Burin asked through the ether, and now I’m looking, too. I savor the individual achievements and dreams, great and small. I join in the ecstatic welcoming of babies and the respectful goodbyes for people we lose.
Friend Lisa Gibson posted gleefully, “Just fixed a destroyed sliding closet door and I’ve never felt more capable.” She confessed in another post that she had filled her rooms with 60 houseplants. “When you can’t surround yourself with people, surround yourself with plants.”
I am “surrounded” by two plants, one given to me 33 years ago by friends when I left Grand Forks for Minneapolis, the other presented to me when I returned 13 years ago. Neither would win any ribbons, but I am pleased daily to see them. We’re in this together. And yes, I talk to them. “Another day, eh?”
We define ourselves on social media by showing what really matters to us – gardening, cooking, photography, faith. We brag about children and grandchildren, and we make lists: states or countries visited, concerts attended, books read.
Several Facebook friends are excellent amateur photographers. I linger over Michael Bogert’s eagles and the northern Minnesota woodlands plants and animals documented with love and scientific precision by Fred Schumacher and Leah Rogne. David Vorland posts scenes and people he photographed in Paris over the years. “I hope to make one more visit,” he usually says, and I hope he does because he’ll take me along through his pictures, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen Paris.
Wes Anderson, curator of a museum in my hometown, Valley City, N.D., posts incidental bits of history he’s found. Years ago, he shared a photo of young people striding down Central Avenue during a street celebration in 1939. The photo focuses on three smiling young women, arm in arm, and there she is, 10 years before my birth: my mother.
Mask fashion has become a popular Facebook topic. Hanna Zmijewska-Emerson, a young Polish woman who studied Norwegian with me in Oslo many years ago, teaches now at the University of Minnesota. Her mask carries the message, “Keep calm or I will use my teacher voice.”
Kathleen Coudle King, playwright, teacher and writer, is among many friends who have recalled past travels or dreamed of new journeys to escape social confinement. “I hear half of the U.S. is headed for national parks this summer,” she wrote about a planned visit to Yellowstone. “Here's hoping we can practice social distancing, don't get Lyme disease, or gored by a bison. Maybe there's a play in this.”
Friend Delvin Cree of the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe inspires me with near-daily posts about greeting another sun, enjoying another first cup of coffee, savoring nature, enjoying honest work and respecting elders. He is almost always upbeat, but he reflected recently on the tragic death of a child on the Spirit Lake reservation: “We have to love our children more, care for them. God gifted them to us for a reason.”
Scroll past the venomous screeds, then, and find the lessons. Skip the ignorant rants and disgusting memes and find the joy, the hope. And share.
Chuck Haga had a long career at the Grand Forks Herald and the Minneapolis Star Tribune before retiring in 2013. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.