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?