Maintaining Our Personal Bridges
I live in the Twin Cities, and the Law School where I teach is just a few blocks from the I-35W bridge that collapsed into the Mississippi River last week. (It’s so nearby, in fact, that some of the investigators are using the school building as a temporary headquarters). I am fine and so is everyone I know.
I was touched by the e-mails and phone calls my wife and I got right after the event from friends all around the country, checking in to make sure we all are safe. Some came from people I’ve just met a couple of times at conferences, but they were genuine and concerned. Others were from people who have been among my closest friends. We all have this commendable human impulse to reach out in a crisis. (I have checked with my London friends whenever there is terrorism there, for example.) It reminded me of other times that I’ve been on the receiving end of those “are you OK?” messages. Last year I had serious heart surgery and my wife brought printed e-mail messages (and traditional cards) to the hospital every day and read them to me. I lived in New York City when the World Trade Center was destroyed and hearing supportive words from friends in other places helped put that shattering event in perspective. Of course this is one of the wonderful things about instantaneous but asynchronous telecommunications like e-mail: we can bridge gaps of both geography and time, because my faraway friends can read what I say right away, but we don’t both have to be available at the same time as we would for a phone call.
Yet there is something bittersweet about it. There are so many people in our lives like this: we think of them fondly, we consider them our friends, we always intend to connect with them, but in fact our only real communications come in Christmas cards or concerned messages in the wake of falling bridges and buildings or open-heart surgery. (Perhaps, if we are lucky, there are also the fortuitous “I’m gonna be in town for a conference so let’s have dinner” invitations.) I am resolving to try to do a better job of maintaining the cross-country friendships that matter to me. Not that there’s anything bad about touching base after a catastrophe, but that shouldn’t be the only impetus. It’s so easy to communicate now that I think we take it for granted. Characters in nineteenth-century novels are always scheduling time out of their day to attend to their correspondence. We do nothing so intentional.
And you, dear reader? You are probably looking at this blog because you are procrastinating from doing something else. So, I challenge you: quick, close your eyes and think of someone you’d want to call or e-mail in the wake of a disaster. Then do it, right now, before any other bridges collapse.
[Cross-posted at Info/Law]