Any of You Use the Internet for Time Travel? I Do.

I have to ask you a question. 

I have been using the Internet for almost a decade now in sort of a strange project. Very early on, I realized that digital tools could make it very easy to find lost friends, people from many decades in the past who had somehow touched me, and even to locate people who had caused me pain.  It has been an astounding journey, full of surprises and sadness and sublime joy.

And what I wonder is whether any of you have had this same driving desire to use the Internet to find people.  What kinds of discoveries have you made? Have you been knocked for a loop by the unexpected paths taken by people you find?  Have you learned things about people that were unexpected, or maybe even life-changing? 

I have so many stories to tell that a colleague has been suggesting that I write a book. I have come to see my hobby as a kind of time travel or excavation of the past. Sometimes I call it “personal archaeology.”  And some of my “digs” have led to truly jarring discoveries. Others have lead to powerful insights about my own past and present. Is this something any of you do? 

Two quick stories. 

1. I am fortunate to have had many wonderful teachers in my life.  But in 8th grade I had a genuinely abusive teacher who belittled me and demeaned me and caused me great pain. I have always planned that some day I would tell him how he hurt me, but he truly did disappear. Until several months ago.  Now my dilemma is whether I contact an 85 year old man in a nursing home and tell him the deep sadness he caused me. Or is the fact that I am even debating this a sign of my own failure to process and resolve such an old wound? 

2. As a late adolescent, I knew one guy who was revered as a golden boy. He was an athlete and a brilliant student and handsome. Yet he also had another little problem: He viciously and relentlessly sexually harassed young women. If you knew him at all, you despised him. If you saw him from afar or knew him only superficially you were dazzled. Three years ago I decided I needed to know the life path that someone like that took. Did he end up dazzling or disintegrating?

Actually both: Sometime after medical school, in the midst of a successful practice, he was charged and convicted as a sex offender. While I still rage over a society that was so blinded by the light that they enabled or overlooked his violent misogyny, I felt that my early suspicion and loathing was, however belatedly, confirmed. 

Have any of you gone in search of people?

4 thoughts on “Any of You Use the Internet for Time Travel? I Do.

  1. Re: Your 85 year old teacher, I wouldn’t burden him with your childhood experience of him as an abusive teacher. However, meeting him again (if he’s not too far away, geographically) and reintroducing yourself to him as a former student might allow you to see what kind of person he has become over a lifetime. It might surprise you considerably, or it may confirm your earliest impressions. Either way, it might resolve a few things for you.

  2. Interesting. And a response as empathetic and compassionate as I would have expected from my friend in Staten Island. But your comments also remind me that it might first be wise for me to really understand why this particular hurt never simply faded away.

    I can tell you this. I know from several other sources, including several of his colleagues throughout the years, that he left legions of students feeling demeaned and degraded.

    By the way, at the time I had a savior. My pediatrician was a saint by the name of Dr. Evelyn Knoupf. She was already very old in 1964, and when my Mom saw how this was eating at me, she took me to see her.

    The conversation was easily one of the most important of my life. Dr. Knoupf listened to my story, asked me a few questions, and then began to tell me what it was like to be the first woman ever to graduate from one of the state medical schools in the midwest. She wasn’t talking just to talk about herself, but because she knew just how helpful this story would be to me at that moment.

    The story was beautiful, sad, epic, everything. The harrassment she faced was relentless. The men who had not wanted her admitted were relentless. The men who had supported her claimed to be relentless out of some sick belief that harrassment would toughen her up. She told me that she was tough during the day and that she cried at night.

    And yet she ended by suggesting that anger, while completely natural and nothing to be ashamed of, could be corrosive to me.

    I haven’t alwasy lived out this lesson, but it was precisely what I needed to hear at that moment. To this day when I am feeling bitter, I actually feel her presence.

  3. My husband had a terrible teacher in an early grade. Her name was Miss Glass. She was as cold and cutting as her name, ridiculed Bob for his stuttering and declared him “retarded.” She had him sent to the room with the mentally challenged kids where they—literally—wove baskets. Bob endured this for a long time until his mother noticed a change in him. She prodded him to share, and when he did she was horrified. Bob’s mother had a fourth grade education. She feared authorities. Nevertheless she went to the school and begged Miss Glass to let Bob back into the regular classroom and promised to work on her son’s stutter. As it turned out, Bob’s mother did what the most educated of people may have not. She bought a huge book, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, and a tape recorder. She had Bob (who was not yet 10 years old) read passages of Shakespeare into the tape recorder. Then they would play back the tape. Over time, his stutter was reduced considerably, and he went on to become a voracious reader and a writer of poetry (a very good one, I might add).

  4. Pingback: Take A Trip Back In Time: Online Of Course « Bowllan's Blog

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