UGA vs. Auburn. SEC football and one of the biggest days of the year for Athens, Georgia in the USA. Crowds make this small town brim to overflowing. People don’t always behave well. They drink to excess, dump trash everywhere, treat what is my local like it’s their amusement park. A disposable and trash-able party venue. It’s the kind of day I tend to hide from.
But not this year. This year, I took IFaFMember, aka “Imaginary Friends & Family November,” for a test spin. I introduced myself to 50 strangers and asked them to be my imaginary friends and family.
One said, “Naw, we don’t want any part of that. We’re trying to get somewhere.” A bike policeman named Dan said, “I probably shouldn’t while I’m on-duty.” But 48 people said, “Yes!” We exchanged names. We went from zero to intimate in about 60 seconds, and we made portraits together, like we go way back. A remarkable transition, one I’m just going to have to go ahead and call magic.
Despite all appearances to the contrary, I’m an introvert. I know a lot of people in the world, but I don’t always feel connected to them. I suspect I share this conundrum with even the most extroverted among us. It’s not too hard, it turns out, to feel lonely or alienated in the center of things. And, it’s not always easy, or even convenient, to make meaningful connections. For introverts like me, it’s easiest to travel about as a party of one, dancing in the shadows, skirting the periphery.
Not yesterday, though. Nope. Yesterday, I was surrounded by “friends and family,” and the connections, though brief and fleeting, felt sincere and genuine. I had a blast in this crowd, in this place, on this day, and via a manner of interaction that is a 180 degree flip from my “normal.” It was a big flip from everyone else’s normal, too. My favorite comment, overheard as I walked away, was from a father to his son. “That was weird,” he said. And, he was right. But look at our photo. We are loving it. See how we’re close, how we’re collaborating for a good shot together, how we’re being ourselves together. We are loving each other’s company. Weird is apparently wonderful.
It’s hard to believe, but as I interacted with these strangers, as I made them my imaginary friends and family, as we collaborated to make portraits, as we negotiated the strangeness and laughed together, as we all said, “Yes!” I felt a fundamental human warmth, a connection to people I would be unlikely otherwise to meet, to spend time with, to know. I may never see any of them again, but I’ll be thrilled if I do. We’ll say hello like old friends and laugh about our shared history. Perhaps we’ll make another portrait. Or share a cup of tea. Throw a frisbee. Become actual friends and family.
Want to join the Imaginary Friends & Family community? Please do. I would love it if you’d give the experiment a try, and I can’t wait to hear about your experience of making imaginary friends and family out of strangers. Here’s how.