Don’t call ICE to deport me, but the name you see at the bottom of this column isn’t my real one. Yes, it was the name I was given at birth, but something happened around the time I turned 7 years old that, to some people, changed it forever.

I made a friend.

A new family moved in a couple houses down early in my life and, by coincidence, I was exactly two weeks older than one of their children. I’m not naming names, but we became pals immediately.

I was an annoying little brat, so I was always hanging around, sometimes probably past my welcome at their house. But my friend never minded. We’d run off in the woods to find old stuff (our biggest discovery was an old cabin that smelled like ammonia, yay western Kentucky), play video games and break out a tennis ball and an aluminum bat to play 2-on2 baseball every day with a couple other neighborhood kids.

Like most friendships, we’ve had our highs and lows. We’ve fought, we’ve argued, we’ve been mad at each other. We’ve been closer at some points than others, but when you’ve been friends with someone for more than 20 years, it doesn’t just go away.

Sometime in that parade of years something happened. I was around so much they just started calling me by their last name. It was a joke, naturally, but it made me feel special, like I was a part of something. I have two older blood brothers but I was an accident baby and they had grown and moved out before I was old enough to remember them living at home.

So a family like my friend’s, with two other brothers, parents and extended family I had come to know because I was always around, I genuinely did feel at home. I can’t say how much that did for my growth as a person, but I was an awkward child. Heck, I’m an awkward adult but that’s another story.

Their welcoming me was the first time I had ever really felt accepted. Even if it was a joke, it gave me confidence, gave me peace. No disrespect to my parents, but no child wants only to have them as their only friends.

Absolutely none of it would have happened today.

My friend and I, we believe in different things. We’re not the same politically, we don’t like the same music, same kind of movies, art, history, none of it. We’re entirely different people with beliefs that reflect that.

If we met, like many people do now, on social media, we might despise each other. More likely, we wouldn’t know each other existed.

Social media encourages bubbles. You see what you want to see, so you find people more like you. They post the same silly memes, believe in the same politics, listen to the same music. Those are the people whose posts you browse more, so they’re who you see more of.

I would have missed out on a family, and a lifelong friend. I wonder how many friends I’ve missed out on since, how many relationships we’ve all had snuffed out before they had a chance at beginning, either because we never see that person, or because we prejudge them based on what we see on their social media profiles.

It’s important, I think, to remember that Facebook isn’t a reflection of real life. It tells you some of what a person is, but people are more complex than that. We’re more than our opinions. We’re more than the things we like.

Besides, it’s important to branch out. If everyone we meet is just someone who agrees with us, what do we really learn? What’s the value of that?

It’s never harmful to be polite, and maybe be a little less judgemental on who posts what on social media. It’s not who they are, and you never know, you could be the best of friends.

We only met a couple times, Ann Poe, and I have a hard time recollecting any memories with you. We weren’t family, not really, and I can’t pretend that my sadness over your death matches that of your blood, that would be wrong. But some of the people you helped bring into this world changed my life, and I can’t help but feel sorrow — and appreciation — for you. In some tenuous way, we were connected, even if it was just through the bond of two young boys and a family that accepted one of them as their own. Rest in peace.

Jesse Jones is the editor of The Eagle Post, a member of Paxton Media Group. Reach him at jjones@kentuckynewera.com.

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