With Social Media clogging our global consciousness, it’s easy to not see the people who are right in front of us on a daily basis. It’s also too easy not to care about them, and perhaps worst of all, it’s too easy to reduce their humanity to the ideas or beliefs that they have.
Take my own neighbor, for instance. I’ve lived beside him for nearly a year. In that time, I could not tell you his name, what he did for a living, or even what he looked like. In fact, I spent a good amount of time thinking that a friend of his who visited his home often was my neighbor.
Then we were hit by catastrophe.
Like many central North Carolinians in the fall of 2018, I worried and prepped hard for Hurricane Florence, only to be caught completely off guard by Hurricane Michael. Trees were knocked down. Many of us were left without power, cable, or internet.
That was the least of it. Those who were less fortunate had their homes destroyed.
My neighbor was one of those people. A large tree came down and nearly pancaked one half of his home. I had no idea as to the extent of the damages until the next morning. In the daylight, I saw a home so transformed by this natural disaster that TV and print journalists used photos of it as a visual reference point in several stories about the severity of the damages caused by the hurricane.
That’s when I finally saw my neighbor. I walked up and introduced myself to him for the very first time. He looked about as good as any person could look after spending the entire night grappling with the realities of finding half of their home was completely demolished by a hurricane. His eyes were wet -- maybe from the lack of sleep, or just the sadness of losing so much. We shook hands.
In that moment, I finally learned his name. Discovered that he worked as an EMS driver for a living. Then I did what many southerners do when they see a neighbor grappling with a tragic life event: I offered him food. He took me up on that offer. Meeting me at the Battle Pub, I learned more ways that we as human beings had things in common -- we both worked in and around the film industry at one point in our lives -- and then he set back to work on the considerable challenge of putting his life back together.
And that’s when it hit me, he wasn’t the only one. I was without power, but fortunately, my restaurant had been spared. I immediately began to invite all of my neighbors to the Battle Pub to charge their phones, and to get some work done in our event space if they needed it. I even opened up our company’s secured wifi code and shared it to folks who needed to access the internet. In those moments, I had more opportunities to talk with these people. To learn about their lives. To understand the challenges they had to navigate through because of the storm.
I am definitely not glad that our city was hit so hard by Hurricane Michael, but I appreciate the brief opportunity it gave me to meet so many of the people who live around me. So, my neighbors and friends, here is my challenge to you. Maybe you’ve already met me at my business, or perhaps our interactions have been purely driven by social media. If you see me out in the world, say hello. Introduce yourself to me, and if neither of us are too busy, share something real about your life.
For the truth of it is, while social media fills our digital space with ‘friends,’ ‘followers,’ and ‘likes,’ without electricity or the internet, all of that disappears. And what we have left are the people who are around us in our actual lives, who can be way too easy to ignore if we allow ourselves to be distracted.