I spoke to my elderly Aunt a few days ago, she’s 91, she doesn’t get out much these days and she complained to me that her ready meals only provide carrots and peas and that she hasn’t had a cabbage since January. She reminded me she likes to embroider tablecloths, despite her failing vision and now she knows she needs some help.
‘Do you have anything to do with the internet?’ she asked me. If she could see my bank statement, she would know that much of my spending is done online and that add to basket is a phrase I almost wear like a badge.
I told her I did. And she said she needed a magnifying glass and did I know of something called Google. Winnie, from up the road, had told her about it. I explained about Amazon, I delighted in telling her that, as a student, I could get next day delivery and once off the phone, I searched and found and proceeded to check out. She would receive it the next day, courtesy of my familiar virtual world.
This virtual world is a double edged sword these days. It has brought great help and comfort over the years, connections with people I’ve never met, widowed like myself, and I’ve grown to feel close to them, even though by traditional standards, I don’t really know them at all. I could have a problem in my world, in my day, but if I don’t post about it, they won’t know. They won’t come around and help out or hug because they’re scattered miles away, they only know what I tell them, how I present myself online and this is how it is.
When my son was a baby and my pelvis had become unstable, most of my world was on the bed. A trip to the bathroom would have to be organised in advance and sometimes took so long to get there and back that I used to think I should have taken sandwiches for the journey. I’d have given anything to have had this virtual world, to have had the company of strangers on my bed. And yet they don’t remain strange for long. Now my friends’ list is packed with people I feel I know, people I care about, people, who though I only get a fleeting glimpse into their world, I am connected to. I am entangled in this new society, I flick my phone to update when I wake because in these uncertain days, I’m worried. I want to see if there’s any news on someone who should be there. I feel myself churn away, considering the possibilities of her absence but I can’t do anything to help her. I can share the pleas, I can send pms in the hope that sometime soon she’ll pick them up. But I can’t hold her, I can’t look into her eyes and reassure her it will all be ok. I can’t make her tea and biscuits and sit up till dawn, till the pain subsides, till tiredness takes away our voices, till we can’t talk anymore.
But how I want to, how I wish I could break through this virtual world and swoop down to where she is and know all the things she can’t tell us, to know the person behind the updates, to really know my friend. But I can’t. I can only tap and update my newsfeed, I can only scour the media and wade through their distorted words.
This thin veil of people are a feature of my life now, we are all connected and though we only intersect at tiny points, with snapshot phrases, with glimpses of a moment, of a life – it’s in those glimpses that we reach each other, that we connect to another soul doing their best. A fleeting window on their world.
It’s not the world my Aunt grew up in, with neighbours who knew your name, with a walk to the post office to buy a stamp, for the letter you’d written to a friend. And now she waits for Winnie from up the road, who’s promised to pop in with a cabbage, although I told her I’d be happy to do an online grocery order for her, she says, ‘no thanks,’ she says she’ll take her little luggage trolley and when she feels up to it, she’ll go up the road for some bits. She likes to get out when she can; she lives in the real world.
How I wish our world was like hers, how I would spend time with my virtual friends but I can’t, not in that way. I am connected to them all, these chiffon swathes of souls in the palm of my hand. And I follow their stories, I laugh and cry with them and now I worry, now I ache, now I’m desperate to hear from my friend.
My friend, who years ago held my hand across the ether, when I first landed in this world, who encouraged me to start a blog, who was simply there. How I wish I could reach out and hold her hand now. I hope that someday soon she will see this post and her timeline full of concern. And she’ll know how much she’s loved and back in this binary world again, she’ll update her status to tell us she’s ok.
I wish I could just buy her a cabbage and make everything alright.
This is for my friend – wherever she is.