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Vanishing acts

January 3, 2013

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about disappearing. After all, today is my last day in Suriname, and as I will be leaving tomorrow, I wonder about people who come into our lives and disappear, whether it is after a week, a year, somewhere in between, or longer. Not just a passing person, but someone who makes an impact and then disappears, whether through a slow fade or a quick vanish.

Because I have moved around a lot in my life, I had had the opportunity to meet many people, most of whom I lost contact with after a time, for whatever reason. I mean, let’s be honest, it takes a lot of work to stay in contact with people, because it is so easy to fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality when you don’t live in geographical proximity to someone (even family!). Or it used to be, anyway. I remember friends from my time as an exchange student, with whom I exchanged many letters (yes, this was before the Internet) and occasional phone calls. Eventually the letters and phone calls became less and less frequent as we moved on with our lives and met new people. I have been lucky enough to reconnect with many of them because of social media tools like Facebook, but there are so many others that are lost to the proverbial sands of time.

But do we ever really forget people who have had an impact on us? How long does a person need to make an impact?

The rise of the Internet and easy communication is something with which a certain generation grew up, another generation grew used to, and yet another grew tired of, if it ever learned it at all. Some of us grew up with face-to-face and phone conversation as a regular part of our interaction, and letters when we were away. While it is easier now to keep in touch, it seems more difficult to keep connected, or to make connections that last. While we are able to reach more people more frequently, does the impersonal nature of the Internet allow for easier disconnects than the face-to-face communication that seems to be ever fading?

This was all brought to mind recently because I made a new connection through the Internet, but after about a week, the connection simply was terminated – disappeared. I will never know why the person faded away so quickly, but it leaves me wondering whether it was something that was said at some point, during an e-mail or an IM session. Why a person would appear so interested in making a connection and then disappearing when one has been established. Has the nature of people become so transitory that this is what we should expect from now on? Can we trust any sort of connection, whether it is first made face-to-face or electronically?

Not that face-to-face is a sure thing. I had a good friend when I was in law school who one day simply stopped answering my phone calls and e-mails, and never corresponded again. I never found out why.

Then I got to thinking about the impacts that are made by our interactions with people and by their fading away. Certainly, we will not get along with everyone we encounter and we are not made to have lifelong relationships with everyone we encounter, but what is the impact that can be made with a shorter-term interaction? Is there any at all? Should it cause us to pause and think about some things, or simply disregard the disappearance as a fluke and move on?

Does a person’s physical absence have to mean the person no longer has an impact? After nearly three years in Peace Corps, I hope not. I was lucky enough to be able to see some of the impact I had on people, and to be told of such impact, both in Ukraine and here in Suriname. While that is mostly on a professional level, I still found it meaningful. It seems more difficult for people to tell each other about the impacts they have on a personal level – after all, that would open a person up and make the person somewhat vulnerable, which is something that no one wants to be. But we find ways to show each other; mostly through continued contact but in other ways as well.

So all of these things, and more, are on my mind as I begin my next vanishing act. In twenty-four hours, I will be on an airplane on my way back to the United States. There is much to think about.



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