I’m not sure how coherent this is going to be, but an idea has been going round and round my head and is screaming to get out….
I’ve written about family in DAMAGED PEOPLE, but the fact is – in real life – I’m sequestered in Philadelphia with my husband. Now, Philly is a wonderful city, best known for its history, but with a lot of first-class universities, top-notch hospitals and Zagat-rated restaurants. And murals! And cheesesteaks! Anyway, I don’t regret for a minute that we decided to retire here. But my son and his family are in Canada; my brother is in New York State; other relatives live in New Jersey, California, D.C., or the Caribbean. How far we’ve journeyed from the time when the whole mishpuchah lived in one shtetl!
At the same time, however, we’re brought back together virtually on Facebook, where I can see my three grandsons grow up online, and know more about my fellow high school students now than I ever did in real life. Facebook: without which I never would have known that my two nieces had babies this year (with photos!) Or that my first cousin – six months younger than me – whom I regrettably hadn’t seen in years, had died. Whoa.
Maybe it’s the shock of that that got me wondering how important physical reality is, after all. So many of my family have passed on but continue to reside in my mind: Grandma Becky, Aunt Ruth, Mom, Dad, Cousin Edward, and on and on and on. Absent in body, but just as real in my memory as Michael and Debbie and Karen from grade school, who are alive and well as far as I know. At least until I see a post to the contrary on Facebook.
In fact, it sometimes feels as if all the family members who have passed on are still somewhere out there on the Net, as virtually reachable as my son is on Facebook. (My cousin still has her Facebook page. No one seems to have had the stomach to deactivate it.) Alive and Dead almost seem to have no more significance than, say, tall, artistic and red-haired. They’re just characteristics.
But, then again, I may have just read a little too much quantum theory. I get these funny notions. For example, from time to time I get the feeling that my mother might just call me up for a chat. “Hi, hon,” she would say. “Just got back from the gym. So, how’s your book going?” This, regardless of the fact that she passed on 13 years ago.
So, okay, maybe it’s an absurd idea. But, really, how is a fictional character – someone with no corporeal reality, but whom I know and love – different from my mother who is no longer alive? Is one more real than another? Whether we read about politicians and celebrities and, rightly or wrongly, feel we know them, or whether we connect deeply with the characters in a book, what we think we know of other people is really all inside our minds. It’s all fiction.