Meeting Your Best Friends
Five years ago, a group of people, all leading drastically different lives, found each other. I know this next line will heighten the skepticism of many, but, this fortunate meeting was thanks to the internet. We didn't all fall together at the same time or even in the same way. For me, it was all thanks to a dull, lazy afternoon that brought me to a website I had little interest in. I could have so easily not completed the click that sparked this future, but I did. Sometimes, I think about how amazing it is that one small, seemingly insignificant choice to log on to a dusty old website has impacted the lives of so many people. People that, by distance alone, should have never even known of the existence of each other.
In the years since, these friends shared uncountable hours on chat, on video, playing games, writing, sharing experiences, and growing together through some of the most turbulent years of life. As our lives entered a more serious age, we took risks. A few moved states away from their homes to explore new paths in life. I moved in with someone I had never met in person before. Connections evolved as lives changed. Today, the idea of having your closest friends be people you have never seen in reality, heard the voice of, or physically embraced isn't as foreign as it once was. But I often forget that this sentiment isn't shared universally by all. Now, in 2017, five years since the formation of these relationships, we still had never met. So we planned a trip.
Should I be scared?
I don't know how everyone felt before the trip began. I had been wrapped up in dense work and frustrated enough with the everyday-ness of life that I forgot to be scared. It wasn't until I was in the car alone on the ride over that I started to realize the gravity of the moments about to unfold. Sure, we knew each other, but would we like each other? Would it be an enjoyable trip? A memorable one? It's impossible to fully know someone you've never met.
Have you ever met someone in a class, at work, or on the bus, that you instantly feel like you've known your whole life? I feel like these experiences come up now and again, although the chance of reciprocation from the other party is variable. Well, imagine meeting several different people at once and all experiencing that simultaneously. Though we had just arrived, I felt like I had lived in that cabin my whole life. It was less like the expected "yay, vacation!" and more like an unforeseen, "I've been here two minutes and already feel at home."
A Perfect Cliché
The trip itself was unnervingly hallmark. We engaged in all the traditional camping activities like smores, scary stories, hiking, and swimming. We visited an idyllic vineyard, made friends with deer at a ranch, watched movies, cooked, made crafts, took polaroids of each other, and danced in the rain during a summer thunderstorm. It was merry and beautiful and indescribably picturesque.
A Community of Hearts
But beyond the surface level contentment, there was something more surreal which caught my attention. It wasn't just the astounding joy that shook my philosophy of happiness to the core. It was incredible normalcy. We, who had never met until this week, were sitting outside on the porch at night, reading by candlelight in complete silence. This soundlessness was the kind of silence that you only feel comfortable participating in with people you have known a very very long time.
Just like Kids at a Sleepover
This trip was a shared, deep, tangible experience I cannot compare to anything else. We stayed up late and swapped secrets at 2 am, like children who are too excited at a sleepover to go to bed. We learned about each other's home states and the cultures we all hailed from. We took naps on the floor five feet apart despite there being beds open twenty feet away because it was hot, we had been outside all day, and we felt safe and comfortable around each other.
The Similarities of Difference
It felt like being a kid again, suddenly being extremely interested in learning everything there is to know from the world around you and the people beside you. From finding out mutually shared music tastes to realizing we all liked the same card games (but called them by completely different names), it felt fantastical and more real than I had remembered human interaction could be.
Every Sun Must Set
As the trip wound down, the silence carried a new tone. We stayed up as late as we could, knowing that going to bed the last night meant an end to this. We extended the trip with some excursions in the city upon return to add on a couple more hours. Nobody wanted to leave, but nobody could articulate why. Perhaps it's due to the inevitable unlikeliness of something like this occurring again, or a fear of returning to a work or school routine that had become so typical that it was easy to ignore how unfulfilling it was.
Nobody Leaves Empty Handed
Still, we prevailed. The end time sadness was a beautiful tribute to signify we had broken a social barrier many are too scared even to approach. I've left this trip with a deeper understanding of those I have known for years as well as myself. Additionally, this week away has inspired a new era of philosophical thinking in myself, and I wouldn't doubt that at least some of the others feel similarly.
A Final Message
Ultimately, I would like to document this experience as a message. The experiences that filled this time are a testament to the validity and strength of online relationships. Perhaps decades from now, with the increasing prevalence of connectivity, this story would be too typical for even a straight-to-tv movie. But now, I will never forget the memories forged on this trip or what I have come to learn about the value of shared experience and relationships of all kinds, online or not.