Before the internet happened I had a different state of mind. My father was in the Air Force. As an Air Force brat, I was the perpetual new kid. I went to eleven different schools growing up. There were a lot of kids like me, but as a general rule, unless our fathers were stationed in the same place again, it was unlikely I’d ever see them again. Consequently, when that rare occurrence happened, those friends took on greater significance. Similarly, when we moved to places where there weren’t many military people around, I encountered kids who for the most part had grown up together, had known each other for years and had developed a bond I could never know. The other side to that is I was forced to accept change faster and figure out a new home faster, which made me more flexible, and which gave me a specific skill that helped me connect with new people and to work with them, at least for a time. Those skills served me well as a reporter as my childhood pattern of moving became an adult pattern of moving.
Once, while living in a small town, I had a football coach who was admonishing me for my rebellious behavior. The “problem” being a new kid is your awareness that most local rules are arbitrary. The coach drew two intersecting lines in the dirt and said, “We’re living on this line and we’re happy about how things are. You come in on this other line and we’re in the same place for awhile, but you’re going to keep going on your way eventually.” It was his way of telling me I needed to just let folks be the way they wanted to be. As the years progressed I learned to appreciate his point, but I also began to see there was a profound difference in our appreciation of the moment.
Each of the various experiences of my life, all of which were emotionally powerful to me because of their relative brevity, had a greater significance to me than they had to the people who saw me pass in and out of their lives as they continued to live with those they knew long before and long after me. I carried with me a cherished memory of that time, while they more often than not, considered that time and their memory of me, only one of many. Part of the reason I held those memories so closely, I believe, was my perspective at the time, that the past was dead, that effectively, there was no difference when someone was no longer in my life and the reality of death, because I rarely, if ever, experienced the same people other than family. Furthermore, the very act of “moving on” required me to bury the pain of loss and focus on the new experience. I got very good at that.
I remember quite clearly walking through the narrow streets of Cirencester, England on a sunny afternoon after hearing my brewery employer and, I believed my friend, Andrew Dunipace, had killed himself. I was shocked, of course, and I felt the loss, but I reasoned it was no different from the loss of losing the multitude of people I had left behind in my life after I moved on. Sadly, in the rare circumstances when I would reunite with people from the past, I would come to understand my impact on their lives didn’t seem to be as profound as theirs on mine. It slowly dawned on me much of it was because I never invested as much of myself in any time or place, knowing that time would be gone soon, knowing that time would be “dead” soon. I suppose it’s a bit like those stories of the soldiers in war who never wanted to learn the names of the new guys who joined them in the fight. The new guys might not be there tomorrow.
The internet changed that. These days I keep in touch with people I knew in High School and in other times in my life, although there are still gaps. The internet profoundly changed my perception of reality. I’m thinking about this now, obviously, because I’ve moved again and I’m facing intense pressure to focus my attention on the new reality and to put the past behind me. As I look around my rooms, though, the photographs, the pieces of furniture, the odds and ends, I see the remnants of a wonderful life I’ve lived and part of me doesn’t want to just “move on.” Now, though, it’s different. I have the internet. In a way I have that trail of breadcrumbs that will lead me out of the dense forest if I need to retrace my steps. The way ahead is full of change. What will not change is my profound appreciation for all the people - friends, family and those whom I knew only briefly, good and bad, everyone who’s played a part in my life. What the internet taught me is that the past is not dead. It lives as I live.