I went to a small high school. I had a handful of close friends and a handful of people I knew, but that was pretty much it. Other than the dude who would drink a 6-pack before homeroom and the guy with the drug problem, everyone was pretty much healthy and average.
I went to a huge university and attended two programs at once. Overnight the number of people I encountered on a daily basis grew exponentially. Suddenly I knew people, lots and lots of people. People with health issues, people with mental issues, people with family issues, and people who were absolutely totally average.
I finished school and went to work for a synagogue. Suddenly, I didn’t just know people, I was actively involved in their day to day lives. I was the front line for every health or family crisis. And it was a big synagogue, so there were many, many crises.
And then, because apparently, I can’t get enough of being in the thick of people’s lives, I got addicted to the internet, where millions of people share snippets of their lives every day, weaving webs that entangle you in their ups and downs.
It’s a wondrous thing being constantly surrounded by people. It means that you always have someone to pump you up when you’re down, or someone to chat with when you need a sounding board. It means that you have friends all over the world. It means that no matter what you’re going through, there’s someone out there who can relate.
What it also means is that you know a million more people who are going through tough times.
When I had a handful of friends my life was pretty sheltered. I knew about the usual, run of the mill challenges that people face. As my social and professional circles have grown I’ve seen more and more of the horrors that life can bring.
Most days I love being hyper connected. I thrive on all that connectedness.
Other days the weight of what my friends face makes me want to shut off the world, curl up under a blanket, and never come out.
It was easier when I hardly knew anyone.
My friend Susan is struggling today. I’ve known Susan, first virtually and finally in the flesh, for over 5 years now. She’s the only rocket scientist I can claim to actually know. She’s wise, funny, caring, and a pillar of strength. She’s fought not one, not two, not even three, but four cancers over the last four years. FOUR cancers. She has two little boys and loving husband. She has friends all over the globe. She’s changed how I see science and how I want my daughters to see it. She’s touched my life and improved it. And no matter what happens over the next few weeks, there will always be a little Susan shaped part of my heart. It’ll glow when I show my kids a cool science trick or help them learn about a woman who has changed the world of science.
I know a million people (give or take a couple thousand) and in putting myself out there I’ve opened up my heart to a million heartaches. My heart breaks daily, but if I weren’t putting myself out there, weren’t opening myself to the possibility of sadness and horror, I wouldn’t be opening myself to the possibility of meeting people like Susan.
And if I hadn’t met Susan? Well my life would most definitely be poorer for it.
(One of my favorite posts by Susan: http://toddlerplanet.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/its-not-fair/, demonstrating that strength and wisdom I mentioned above.)