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Infinite Airport Loops
Real Life and Online Friends
A woman in a yellow crop top stumbled when her lime green tote bag slipped off her arm and knocked her suitcase off balance. She still enthusiastically jumped into the beige sedan pulling up next to her and embraced the driver in a hug and a slew of kisses.
I saw another woman pop up with her curly haired baby seated on her hip. She held her hand to her eyes, as if she was looking for a ship, not a SUV in a sea of vehicles. Her little girl held her tiny hand up to her eyes as well. When her driver arrived, he took the carseat from her father who was lingering behind them and set it up for them in the backseat.
Staring out the window, I watched as one person after another was picked up by a loved one, friend or Uber driver. These intimate moments looped on for hours like an infinite film strip rolling one scene after another.
I spotted an older man who lifted a suitcase into the trunk of his black van before turning to the young man next to him and giving him the most aggressive handshake I’ve witnessed. He maintained a huge grin as the handshake extended from seconds to minutes. I wondered if he was the man’s grandpa or Uber driver.
Trapped in airport purgatory, pushed to the back of baggage claim when I arrived too early for my flight today, I got lucky and found a metallic table facing the airport arrivals pickup area. I witnessed hundreds of tiny precious moments between loved ones, friends and Uber drivers as I sat there and pretended to work.
At one point, I looked away at the scenes playing out in front of me and back at my laptop that sat in front of me. This tiny metal gadget is the birthplace of so many of my own intimate relationships. Unlike the people hugging in front of me, I’ve never met the hundred something people I’ve connected with online.
I’m surprised by how moved I was by watching the “in real life” relationships of strangers. It made me miss the friends I’ve known for years, the ones I’ve seen in person and have known for over a decade.
My life has become so online these days. I’m in multiple communities where I chat with people across Discord, Circle, Twitter and it seems every month there’s a new app to connect with my online friends.
Every week, I’m in Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting, staring sometimes at 10 or 15 faces, making jokes while everyone else laughs silently on mute.
There’s no clumsiness with heavy suitcases or awkwardly long handshakes. The worst case situation online is extended silence.
I’m planning to be offline this weekend as I travel for a friend’s wedding. I’m ready to embrace the people I’ve known for decades and spend time catching up and sharing our new philosophies on life. Kids will be screaming nearby and when we say goodbye, it’ll linger in the air as we separate, not cut off abruptly by a well timed “end meeting” click.
What surprised me is how much I’m already missing my online friends.
As much as it sounds dystopian to sit in the middle of a desert and talk to people in tiny little video boxes all day, it’s been so wonderful to find like minded people online. I smile when I see my friends comments roll through on Substack, and I love getting a very intimate peek in people’s lives reading everyone’s pieces.
Every week I get to connect with people across the globe to talk about writing, but those conversations often turn to music, then technology and then sometimes death.
My online friends can be in Idaho or Milan, San Francisco or Lisbon, yet they can pop up on my screen at any moment for a chat.
All this to say, when I look back out into the endless loop of relationships streaming in front of me, I do miss the people I used to be able to hug and hold so easily. But I also appreciate the ones that are now in my life because of the internet, friends who are only a comment or DM away.
Maybe in the grand scheme of things, no matter how I meet these people, I can always hope to grow the kind of friendships where one day, I’ll find myself picking them up at the airport, meeting in real life, struggling to lift their suitcases into my trunk.
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