I thought about connections the other day, after an old friend “Face-booked” me.  It was a total shock to hear from her.  I believe the last time I saw her we were 18, at some party neither of our parents knew about. If memory serves me correctly, we were gathered in a field surrounded by beer cans, other minors, and a bonfire.  Not a great combination. I think it’s safe to say we’ve both come a long way since then. Then, thanks to the wonders of the world wide web- BOOM!  We were suddenly reconnected.  Amazing.

After catching up on what happened since the bonfire and subsequent near parked-car explosion (everything turned out okay, mom and dad), I thought about all of the ways I connect with various people, groups, businesses, etc.  I realized that my Iittle white Mac is really my central link to many, many of my “people.” My address book, and I’m sure yours, is testament to the unbelievable network of people available instantly- anywhere, anytime.

While there are probably cobwebs (or maybe web-webs) on some of those addresses, many are used often.  Think about all of the emails that you send each day. If you’re like me, I bet many messages are sent to relatives and close friends.  Maybe even people you live with.  Other recipients may be in the cubicle next to you, or in the house next door. Human logic begs- Why the hell don’t you just go talk to that person?

Taking that whole question out of the mix, the bottom line is that the connections made through email are different from those that occur in real life.  Perhaps these connections exist on their own within the confines of cyberspace, perhaps they enhance “real life” relationships with these people. The bottom line is that these messages should not valued solely for their ability to keep us connected to those around us. These messages are often much more honest and brave than anything we’d say to our people in real life. (And whether or not that’s good or bad should be judged on a case by case basis…)

It’s interesting to consider what happens to these cyber conversations when they hit the real world. For me, when I do see these people in person, I notice a slight shift in dynamic.  Face to face is a bit different from keyboard to keyboard. When I finally talk to my cyber friends, there is bound to be an adjustment to how we relate.  Sometimes we’ll refer directly to our emails… Did you survive that day from hell?  Are things going better with your evil boss? Did you finally ditch the jerk?  When we hear these questions, we realize just how much of our lives we freely share while at our computers. In fact, sometimes it’s so shocking to discuss these things in the real world that we revert to small talk until we’re back to the safety of our internet alter egos.

To be sure, this network gives us an interesting freedom of communication that knows few boundaries. While it would be odd to pick up the phone and call an ex boyfriend/girlfriend or new love interest at 2 a.m., with email you can safely craft a clever message in hopes of a future connection.  Or, let’s say you want to ask your boss for some time off or explain a difficult work dilemma… send an email. Much easier than face to face communication.  The internet really can be the ticket to communicating in all sorts of situations.

After all of this focus on internet connections, though, I thought about the real life connections that we make each day, and how unique each of those can be.  These are the connections you have with the people you work with- perhaps the person you see everyday at 9 a.m. as you both go for your third cup of coffee. Or, the co-worker you are friends with simply because you both started on the same day, and grew through the ranks together.   Similarly, there are connections you have with friends simply because you are in the same stage of life- dating, having kids, going to school… circumstances that bind you, but can change. And, finally, there are the deep seeded connections made early in life that last through the years.  The list of people we connect with could go on and on.

I recently thought of these connections when an injury had me out of my running circle. Yes, I still emailed my friends and communicated with them.  But I felt an interruption in my connection. I didn’t like hearing about running and races and training when I was stuck on the elliptical at the gym. It was sort of like being the one kid at the lunch table who wasn’t going to the slumber party that all of the others were talking about. Everything you’re saying sounds great and I’m happy for you, but since I’m not going, could we please talk about something else?  It’s sometimes hard to relate to people when the “common connection” is altered.

And then I thought back to my friend, who had emailed me out of the blue. At one time, we had a pretty strong connection. But then time and place changed, and we moved on. 18 years later, we can still relate to the experiences we shared, and where we both came from.  This is the beauty of connections- they are designed to get us from point A to point B, and maybe back to point A again. When the co-worker you started with leaves the company… that relationship is bound to change, maybe even disappear.  Or, when your coffee clutch buddy (betrays you) gives up caffeine, you may need to find a new Starbucks junkie to confide in. Yet, all of these relationships serve a purpose for a moment in time.

For me, my injury is gone, and I am back on the streets with my running people. I no longer make voodoo dolls of them when they talk about running :), as I am right there with them discussing mileage, Gatorade, and other important topics.  And, I am less concerned about the possibility of future injuries separating me from this group because I know that inevitably this run connection will shift. I hope not for a very long time, but when it does, I am confident that another connection will be right there waiting.  I’m sure there will be some great group of knee-and-hip replacement ex-runners that I’ll be able to join.

Whether your connections last a lifetime or just a few moments, may their purpose be clear to you as you go from one road to the next.

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