“You can learn alot about people from their number. For example, your number is 8. That’s a very powerful number.”
A few weeks before the latest Facebook trend – revealing a given number of unknown things about yourself – went viral, I was sitting in a NYC sushi restaurant with some real live people, and I was given the number “8″ by a woman I had just met that night who “reads numbers” for fun.
I’m neither superstitious nor irrational. Generally.
But I hung on her every word as she described me and another friend based upon our respective “numbers” which were completely different. We nodded in assent and shook our heads in disagreement. The three of us made revelations. We laughed. We ate. We drank. Over our very different numbers – 8, 5, and 4 — we connected.
Fast forward a few weeks and everyone on Facebook started giving out “numbers” of their own.
In the interest of full disclaimer, I must admit that I love Facebook and spend a (probably inordinate) amount of time researching and reading and reviewing interesting stories and people via Facebook. Indeed social media is a huge part of what I do for a living – both as VP for a start-up company, and in my writing career. Nevertheless, I’m not one to succumb to Facebook trends. I don’t “Like” posts because someone tells me to. I like them because I like them. I share them if they are compelling.
But when people started giving out “numbers” on Facebook, just like that night in the NYC sushi bar, I got sucked in. I read through every single friend’s numbered list of “unknown” facts, reluctant at first to “like” any of them (even though I did) for fear that I’d have to reciprocate one day (which I eventually did).
This weekend, I was trying to explain the trend to my husband who is not on Facebook – and trying to explain the fascination of publishing a set number of possibly unknown facts about oneself online and handing out numbers so that others could publish their own lists.
It sounded a little silly when I said it out loud. Like fodder for his criticisms of social media.
Until I realized how this trend really bucks the trend of social media.
After all, social media is largely about what we all have in common. What we “like” and don’t “like” along with the masses. And sure, it’s fun to see what we all have in common. The commonalities comfort us.
But what about the un-commonalities? Facts that show up in numbered lists, for example. Friends whose names are not their real names. Friends with dual and even multiple citizenship. Friends who have traveled to exotic places we’ve never seen. Friends with secrets. With surprises. One Facebook friend of mine revealed that she had only sent me a “friend request” by accident. A sorority sister revealed that she had once met Amy Carter’s reindeer – gifted from Finland – while it was quarantined at the USDA where her dad worked. Another admitted she had been “kidnapped” by family members during a custodial dispute when she was young.
It got me thinking.
In the world of social media, it’s indisputable that our connections are fragile and tenuous at best. But why exactly is that?
Don’t we use social media to catch up with old friends, follow new ones, swap stories with long-time friends, network mercilessly? Why isn’t that connection enough?
Well. Maybe it’s because all the while, we focus on our shared experiences. Restaurants we like. Sports our kids play. Movies we hate.
But then something comes around in the form of a silly Facebook game to remind us that it’s not really the constant shared experiences and similarities that connect us out in the real world.
Our differences connect us.
No, that’s not right.
Our willingness to share our differences. With each other. Reveal the unknown differences. To each other.
That’s what connects us to each other in the real world.
Arguably, the newest social media trend attempts as best it can to simulate real life connection, or at least remind us how it’s done.
And then to complicate things:
Because it’s November, there’s also a trend detailing a daily morsel of gratitude, which in my humble opinion, is only interesting when it mimics the numbered revelation trend. When the gratitude extends not just to the things we are all similarly grateful for – but for the unique things that YOU are grateful for, that do not resemble anything that I in fact am grateful for.
After all, I’m an 8, and you might be a 4. Or even a 5.
We’re different, you and I.
And I’m willing to admit that.
And – unlike social media trends - that’s what ultimately connects us.
And so. In a mash-up of social media trends and because 8 is apparently “my number” and a “powerful” one at that – I jotted down a list of 8 things that I’m unapologetically and wildly grateful about that you might.not.know. That might be different than your list. Or at least I hope so.
(By the way, one list of 8 turned into 2 lists of 8, and then I stopped myself before it became excessive.)
1) all ready pie crust. I’m in charge of the apple pies every Thanksgiving. Enough said.
2) my hips. More specifically: that my daughter, Grace, still fits securely on each of them, and finds a way to hop on up there just when we both need it.
3) my son, Luke. Everything about him. Ok, if I have to pick something concrete and surprising – it would be the fact that Luke never.ever.skips a goodnight kiss. Even if he’s mad at me. (Also – the fact that Luke is hardly ever mad at me. Even when I deserve it.)
4) my son, Paul. But more to the point: my son, Paul’s, imagination. Which is an active and totally acceptable verb in our house. As in, “Mom, I’m going outside to imagine.” ”Ok, have fun.”
5) my other Paul, my husband. So many things, of course – but for brevity sake, I would have to single out his crazy blunt cringe-worthy compulsion for honesty that lets me know – without guessing – exactly what he thinks. At every moment of time. About me. From my lack of punctuality (censored) to my favorite brown, super-stylish, high-heeled suede boots (“those look really, really, really …. uncomfortable”) to his predictable but weird compliment when he likes my cooking (this is homemade? it tastes like restaurant food.) Also that when I confided my idea for Lemongrass Hope to him over three years ago, he said, “Hunh. That is actually … a really good idea. (I am also supremely grateful because he loves me unconditionally, and works so, so hard, and is an amazing father to our kiddos. But. He has asked me repeatedly to please not write too much about him here, because “everyone reads your blog, apparently. People are constantly quoting you to me. Even in the operating room. Which is odd.” So, we’ll just keep some of this between us, ok?)
6) the fact that none of my boys have requested for Christmas – or even know about – the deluxe AXE gift set. The other day I stopped in front of the tree-shaped display in a department store, and thought “Well, when one of those enters my home, it will pretty much signal the end of innocence.” (As a side note, I do acknowledge that AXE’s arrival will be karmic payback for all the Drakkar I gifted as a swoony teenager.)
7) the red roof of the barn next to my house. The truth is it seems to catch the sunlight at just.the.right.angle at sunrise and sunset and makes me so, so happy when I happen to leave or arrive home during those hours (which I often do).
8) the fact that I still find myself, every now and again – as the brilliant Kelly Corrigan puts it – in “The Middle Place”. The place where “even when all the paperwork – a marriage license, a notarized deed, two [in my case three] birth certificates, and seven [in my case 16] years of tax returns – clearly indicates you’re an adult, all the same, there you are, clutching the phone and thanking God that you’re still somebody’s daughter.”
9) the stares my four siblings and I get when we are in public together. We like each other. Alot. And all that liking is loud and funny. It makes people stare. If you ever see us out at a restaurant – or in Vegas together – you don’t have to look away. We know what we look and sound like. Stare away. We don’t mind.
10) Brian and Clara Henningsen for writing The Band Perry’s “All Your Life” and not minding that I simply cannot listen to that song ANYWHERE without turning it up to full volume and butchering it mercilessly. (They might not know? Oh. That explains it, then.)
11) Ditto for Taylor Swift’s “Red,” Florida Georgia Line’s “Stay,” and anything written by Bruce Springsteen or Adele.
12) a network of girlfriends so beautiful and amazing and selfless that I am absolutely CERTAIN and confident that I will never undergo anything bad in life that will not be met with love, compassion, and at least one to two week’s worth of lasagne casseroles.
13) my grandmother, Lois, for paying me $10 for a poem idea, title, and first line, when I was about 8. And then using it to write a poem for the local newspaper, giving me my first taste of the creative writing process and the trials and tribulations of navigating the commercial publishing process.
14) RJ Palacio for writing Wonder in her kids’ car pool lines, as it is the first book since the Harry Potter series that my kids have all sat still for at bedtime. And because it is magical.
15) For the number 8, which is apparently powerful. And mine.
16) Surprises. Not like jumping-out-at-birthday-party-surprises, but the real surprises that happen every day. When someone I expected less of (like me!) delivers more. Or when someone I thought I knew turns out to be different all together. But in a good way. I live for those surprise moments and when they arrive like gifts, I relish them with gratitude.
Like numbered lists, daily gratitude reveals, and catchy Facebook trends.
I’m grateful for it all.
Almost as much as all-ready pie crusts.