Warning: Teshuva can be serious business if you are a middle-aged social media user. [For the uninitiated, teshuva means return or repentance].
Before explaining further, some background is in order. According to Pew Research Center, the use of social media among those of us 50 years of age and older has doubled in the past year alone (http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Older-Adults-and-Social-Media/Report.aspx). So, although I occasionally do embarrass a kid or two or even three, I am apparently part of a growing movement of aging baby boomers that now spends way too much time on Facebook.
But back to the teshuva part of the story…
When I got onto Facebook (or Eons, which bills itself as a social site for Boomers), I friended people that are currently in my life: colleagues, friends, and, when invited, students. Along the way, however, people from my past joined and we found each other: high school and college buddies, former students from “back in the day”, former girlfriends, and other classmates from my youth.
Here’s the thing: Darwin’s idea of survival of the fittest often applies to friendships. We lose touch with some friends along the way. Our interests have diverged, our lives have gone in different directions, people moved away (usually me). But on Facebook, these friends reappear. Not only that, but old classmates, neighbors or others with whom barely a word was exchanged in those pasts become online “friends” quite easily. And therein lies an interesting challenge, and one that makes teshuva oddly different. Because, as my friend C. said to me: your high school classmates remember you as raw material. Before you had all sorts of fancy college degrees and nice clothes. They know who you are beneath the mask. And nobody of the “digital natives”, as Marc Prensky describes younger generations (http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf), bothers to warn us older folks that there is a certain danger in social media. That it moves us to our past, present and future simultaneously.
How true. As I reminisced, became reacquainted or acquainted for the first time with characters from my past, the “raw material” emerged. And I realized how the externals had changed but so much that was a deep part of my psyche had not. My old friends and acquaintances had memories of me: I could be moody, I had anger, I often had trouble articulating my thoughts clearly and would become frustrated when I wasn’t understood. Oh, there were good things about me that they remembered, too. My idealism (which has been tempered by age and the bumps that life gives us), my passion for standing up for people’s rights, my love of music.
But it was the honest evaluation of some flaws that persist (albeit in somewhat different forms) that became my wake up call this Elul, as I prepared for Rosh Hashana. What I thought I had changed or outgrown was pointed out to me, delicately, but clearly, as flaws that had merely been morphed into different expressions. And that meant that this year, as no other, I had real work to do, and couldn’t just sneak by with superficial change at this season of teshuva.
So, without boring anyone with the details, simply know that social media can actually impact and magnify the cheshbon ha-nefesh, the personal soul searching, that the High Holidays ask of us. For me, it did so in very powerful ways.
I am grateful to my friends in the “real” world and in the “virtual world”, past and present, who gave me the gift of real reflection this year. Without question, this was the most challenging Elul and pre-High Holiday teshuva in which I’ve engaged. And social media made it possible.
Best wishes for a shana tova u’metukah, a happy and sweet new year.