The last total solar eclipse in the United States was in 1979; Mom says people would cut out holes in tissue boxes to watch without blinding themselves. Today I mostly saw modified cereal boxes and special cardboard glasses with tech company logos.
Today is also the grand opening day for the Peet’s Coffee I work at, so off I went handing out free coffee samples to all the people watching around the city hall and public library. The timing couldn’t have been better. I was worried I’d be stuck indoors while working the morning shift. (See: F.O.M.O.)
The solar eclipse put people in a generous mood. Just making friendly eye contact with someone was enough to compel them to lend me their special “eclipse” glasses. I’d give them the coffee tray to hold for ten seconds while I stared at the sun, and then I’d be back to handing out more samples until the next kind stranger offered to share their cardboard creations. Where I live you can only see a partial eclipse, but I’m happy with that.
Good to see an entire community congregating outside to witness something beautiful in the world. (Score one for human curiosity). The last time I saw this was for the public release of Pokémon Go last summer.
I sat in the parking lot for a good fifteen minutes before walking inside the bar. Why the hesitation? I didn’t even have a bad high school experience — no toilet bowl swirlies in the restroom or getting dunked in the trash can like some other people have told me. Maybe it’s because I get embarrassed when I think of my high school self, and stalling in the parking lot was my last-ditch attempt to bury the past. I’d like to think I’ve changed for the better since my teenage years, but there’s a fear that parts of me haven’t.
I forced myself to go anyway and told my old friends I didn’t know how to behave at such an occasion. Would we be doomed to an evening of what-are-you-up-to-nowadays?. I felt relieved when they said they felt the same way.
The evening went well though (the free alcoholic drink + appetizers didn’t hurt), and I got the chance to reconnect with some old pals I haven’t seen in years. That alone makes all the social anxiety and awkwardness worth it.
It’s only been five years since high school, so most people look the same as they used to. Some people got married (we’re all around 22-23 years old). Others were placing bets on who would be the first in the class to have kids.
Before the reunion, I studied the faces and names of my classmates in an old yearbook. I’d hate to forget somebody else’s name, especially when the other person still remembers yours. Turns out it didn’t matter because everybody was wearing name tags, but the extra care in preparation is a good principle to hold.
An old friend said I should call her once we moved to different towns. “Every day!” she said. I knew that wouldn’t be sustainable, but at least we’d try to connect regularly. Every day turned into twice a week, then once a week, and then hardly at all. The same thing happened with text messages.
I checked in with her to see if everything was alright between us. It was; everyone is just busy. Boo hoo, I thought.
Then I remembered all the other messages I left to marinate in my inbox. Unanswered Christmas cards, birthday wishes (some that are over three years old!), warm greetings from friends in faraway lands: each one lovely and worthy of a wholesome letter in return.
With work e-mails and calls, I am speedy. I reply within a day or two. So why don’t I extend the same habit to old friends? That mismatch in priorities doesn’t feel right. My favorite (and most deadly) rationalization: “I’ll write back when I have the time to make a worthy response”. But of course, that day doesn’t come.
I can’t complain in good conscience when I’ve left other cherished people hanging in the past. If anything, this is another reason for me to double down my efforts in making timely correspondence a regular habit.
Reframe: Rather than excusing yourself by saying “I stink at responding to messages”, think of timely correspondence as a skill to develop, or as a muscle to strengthen. The next time an old friend slips up, throw them a bone and be gracious, just as many others have been to you.
Here’s an example I like to return to, this one from Suzanne after I neglected her message for 11 months: