I joined Facebook a few weeks ago. It was a panicky feeling, reminiscent of junior high, when I looked over at the “friend” list and saw zero. Zero friends! I humbly petitioned my Segullah friends to please be my Facebook friends too. And then I asked my brothers and sisters. And their spouses. And also my many cousins. And their spouses. And also my aunts and uncles, though not all of them are on Facebook. Then my dad joined, and whew! another friend. And now, having connected with everyone I’m actually connected to in real life, and reconnected with people who I like but had not kept in touch with well, I have friends! More than I realized.
And you who are my Facebook friends, I read your updates and find out how you are doing, and you read my updates too. Which I agonize over, is that dumb? I do though. When it asks “what are you doing now?” what I’m usually doing is icing my broken leg. But if I say that over and over it sounds whiny. When I say I’m making FHE treats, does that sound all self-righteous, Look at Me, we have FHE! Or when I write about all the Whitney books I’ve been reading, or the Enrichment writing class I teach, does someone on my friend list from way back read that and think, Ahh, that’s Emily for you. She hasn’t changed since high school, I guess.
But I have changed. And if those people (great people! Hello out there friends!) had interacted with me, talked with me and conversed with me, they would know that I have grown up. A little bit. For all the relief that I feel over having friends on Facebook, there’s no substitute for tangible contact. A voice, a letter, a visit. These are real. These are the substance of relationships, the times when our lives actually intersect. On Facebook we see through a glass darkly.
Which leads me to President Monson. For me, what makes President Monson a prophet for our time, for the Facebook era, is his gift with personal interaction, with the stuff of real relationships. He is always on the Lord’s errand, always following a prompting. There’s the story of how he was an apostle visiting a Samoan Church school and felt impressed to shake every student’s hand… or the tender one told by President Uchtdorf of President Monson climbing many stairs with a hurt foot so he could visit a faithful German saint. And for every story we hear, each one that reaches our ears, I suspect there are many more we never hear about. Our prophet is a master of the Real Interaction, of creating and fostering tangible, positive relationships.
When President Monson became prophet, I wondered about what his hallmark would be. President Hinckley seemed so much a man for just our time: visionary, media-savvy, wise. You could read his biography and think Ah! working on temple building throughout the world prepared him for the small temple expansion. Or aha! all that time spent developing public relations strategies for the Church made the 60 Minutes interview possible.
It is too soon to predict just what President Monson’s legacy will be on a large scale. But for me, I admire, and want to follow, the caring way he interacts with everyone around him. I need that reminder. All those interactions seem small, but they have created a disciple who follows the Spirit absolutely.
I am grateful (very grateful) for my electronic friendships. But increasingly it’s become easy for me to retreat behind a computer screen, typing away, instead of getting out and being with people. President Monson’s life continues to remind me that the people in my life need real time. A Facebook update only makes me hungry for what I really want from my friends: a nice long talk.