When I was a child I believed no one existed beyond my interaction with them. I was the center of everything; the people, places and things I encountered as I moved through my life were created simply for my benefit - be that good or bad. The idea that anyone had a life beyond the moments they shared with me was utterly unthinkable. My life was a movie starring me. (Yes, I was really that self-centered. I was a child. That was my excuse. I have no guilt.)
I don't know exactly when I realized I was wrong about my Truman Show-esque theory but, to be honest, there are times it has felt like I may have been right all along and the movie is still in production. The cast of characters passing through my life continues to appear, more than a few as if they were sent directly from central casting. It can be a little frustrating though: the good guys don't always wear white hats, the bad guys don't always wear black, and there's rarely a lone ranger or cavalry to save the day. (Not even a Mighty Mouse on the most lighthearted of days.) Nonetheless, the players come and go as the movie rolls along, and the story writes itself.
On a certain level I know it must be a sure sign of mental illness to believe any of this could be so. Even more so now that the world we live in, with all its technological advances, pushes my theory to a new level of questioning what is reality and what is not.
People now enter my life through the Internet -- via social networking such as Facebook "relationships" and "communities" -- and remain there as ghosts in my machine, so to speak. Until I see them in flesh and blood, eyes smiling back a friendly "hello", sharing life experiences over a cup of tea do they exist at all? Who are they, really? Where did they come from? Where do they go when they aren't interacting with me? Have they been sent to teach me something - about life? about myself? If I turn off my computer forever, never to click on the Internet again, will they cease to exist?
At times I don't know how I should feel about caring for people who exist in my life in ether only. I don't know if that's "normal" or "healthy" or "advisable". My head tells me saying "So-and-so A is my friend" or "So-and-so B is sweet and I can trust her" is just craziness if I don't know her in a "real world" sense, if I haven't taken the time to develop a "real" relationship with her. (And don't get my head started on the concept of falling in love over the Internet.) But couldn't that be said about people I meet in my workplace or corner coffee shop? After all, people are rarely who they present themselves to be, putting themselves in the best possible light when they stand in front of you each day, and there are some you can know your entire life only to find you never truly "knew" them at all. Any relationship requires a juggling act with trust, common sense, and keeping your eyes open, doesn't it? My head and I argue about this often.
But my heart screams, "Don't limit yourself! Don't confine the caring about, sharing with, or loving someone, ever. Don't preclude the possibility of a life-changing relationship (be it romantic or friendship alone) based on how it reveals itself to you. Sometimes in life you just have to put yourself out there and see what comes of it. For goodness sake, don't brush aside friendship with a world of diverse, creative, lovely people simply because you can't touch their hand or share the oxygen of the same room with them." My head and my heart remain at odds but I mostly follow my heart.
I amble within some bizarre Twilight Zone of questioning the entire reality of my world. I could wake up tomorrow morning and find that no one is here, or out there, or anywhere; all of this, my entire life, has been some crazy practical joke played on me by a twisted, psycho Creator. I could just as easily be as crazy I sound, belonging in a padded cell so as not to hurt myself or others. Or, I could wake up to find I've been in a coma for years and it was all a dream. Or not. Who knows? Do you? Are you sure?
Can any of us be sure?