Why We Talk

Always could be

I spent the day after the election reading essays written by friends on Facebook. They wrote paragraphs, paragraphs revealing their wounded, worried hearts to the world. They shared their personal histories: who they are and what their country means to them. They speculated about their place in the world, their purpose in the months and years ahead. They asked for help.

These were friends who, until this moment, used Facebook only to share the concerts they attended, the meals they ate, the trips they’d taken.

This is not a critique.

Something has changed.

In the period following a disaster, our sense of community swells. In this circle of shared trauma, we feel comfortable sharing ourselves in our full complexity and contradiction, full of fear and stress and hope. We tell stories we’ve never told. I see my friends more fully now, and I find myself smiling. Like superheroes, we shed our civilian clothes and save each other.

It’s possible that as a writer, the past few days have been especially profound, as I’ve had the opportunity to read my friends. Writing is the most direct access we have to the gestures of our inner monologue – not just what we think, but how. We learn that a friend who speaks in terse declarations, thinks in wild, winding, upside-down musings. We learn that a friend who fills the room compresses their thoughts into ordered, logical clips. Perhaps we have heard their song for years, but this is the first time we’ve seen them dance to the music.

I know this will recede soon. If we had Facebook after 9/11, we would have shared our pain for a several weeks, we would have posted forceful political opinions for a few months, but slowly, the new movies come out, and a football player makes a cool catch, we have a busy stretch at work, and the emotion draws back.

But I can’t help but remember who we were then, who we always could be.