About four years ago a friend of mine on Facebook posted an article on a controversial political topic. The article was a little older than the research I’d read more recently on the topic. I asked her if she read the latest. I didn’t ask her because I disagreed with her. I asked her because from what I remembered, back when we went to college, we were pretty darn good friends and I was interested in her updated opinion given the new research. She was smart. So her response was surprising. She snapped at me, accused me of trying to troll her feed, accused me of trying to make her look stupid, and told me to keep my opinions on my own Facebook page.
Then she unfriended me.
I think it was the first time that I’ve been officially and loudly unfriended by anyone on Facebook. I wasn’t heartbroken, not nearly so. Surprised, maybe. A little stung? Because my intention was genuinely to ask if she’d seen the latest, not to find the parts of her post I disagreed with to start a fight.
And of course, since then, you cannot safely agree or disagree with anyone anywhere about anything on Facebook without the chance you’ll be unfriended (or worse).
For 8 years I have written about Noel on the anniversary of his departure, October 10.
And every year I explain in a blog that he was not a love interest or even a best friend, but rather just a good friend I had in college. We had some hilarious moments and I hold plenty of awesome memories that include him. But after graduation, we didn’t keep in touch. It wasn’t even until he got sick that I knew much about his life after school.
In college, we didn’t have social media. We barely had cell phones. We had parties. We ate lunch together. We walked to classes. We found out where our friends would be from other friends we saw on campus. And selfies required a trip to the photo lab at Walgreens to get the film developed (and to see if we even got ourselves in the picture).
I don’t know what Noel’s political affiliations were. I don’t know how he felt about vaccinations or abortion. I never learned his opinion on capital punishment. It never came up. We were too busy finding things we had in common and giggling about the ridiculousness of our theatre management teacher. Sure, we were young. But if we did go deep into opinions (which was rare), the opinions were just viewed as facts about each other like his having curly brown hair or my propensity to drink diet coke.
The pieces of Noel that I didn’t like (let’s face it, he had some pretty crass punchlines) I simply ignored because I knew the whole of him was inherently good and kind. And when he died, I remembered the time he got me drunk on goldschlager (“No, seriously, it’s real gold!”). I thought about how much he loved animals and the high-pitched voice he made when he spoke to them. I remembered his love of the Tennessee Vols and that ratty old hat. I howled with laughter thinking about his wild and loud shirts, sometimes Hawaiian and sometimes geographically untraceable. His political affiliations might have been completely opposite mine when he died, I don’t know. And as I processed his death, it never occurred to me to think about them. Instead, I thought about him. The whole Noel.
For some reason I was born knowing that everything is temporary in a far more conscious way than a lot of people think about. Or maybe it’s because my dad died when I was young that I’ve never placed much stock in my current situation because honestly, it is always bound to change. That horrible phase when my son did nothing but cry from the hours of 6 PM until 9 PM. That was temporary. The ache that came from my divorce and splitting up all of our things and creating a schedule for my son who was now a child of divorced parents. That was temporary. Getting a tattoo for the hell of it. That was permanent, but only because my life is temporary. None of us gets to stay and none of it lasts. And it’s rare (I hope) that when we leave this life our loved ones sigh and whisper, “He was a good man…for a liberal.”
Every year, Noel teaches me something on the anniversary of his death. This year he has taught me that with everything being temporary, your political affiliations don’t matter to me. Your opinions on controversial topics won’t change my opinion of you if at your core you are good and kind. I choose to remember that the parts we disagree on are just facts, like your college football team of choice and my constant need to know there’s a blanket somewhere nearby. Because when you travel to heaven as Noel did, I will remember the parts of you I loved, and so why not remember them now, too?