“In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.” – Alex Haley
It’s easy for someone to hate social media. It may not have a practical purpose other then to let people who have too much to say talk to much about what their favorite movie is, how high did they score on a quiz about television shows from the eighties, or the funny thing their Schnauzer, Sparkles, did when they got home from work. Some feel Facebook, Twitter, and all social media outlets is their personal soapbox to browbeat their friends with the atrocity of the week. The glow of the endlessly refreshing news feed from our smart phones is a sobering reminder the freedom of speech our grandparents fought for also includes the responsibility to allow everyone on your friends list to spout their opinion, along with the option to “like” or “share” it. Luckily the programmers have saved thousands of friendships with the glorious mute button. But rather than focus on the evils of social media, I want to share with you a unique story spanning oceans and continents for over a decade which wouldn’t have been possible without Facebook.
My story starts over ten years ago when my father upgraded from dial-up to a cable modem. Growing up he and I shared a general interest in genealogy. Granted, my fascination didn’t really go further than the coat of arms I pestered him into buying at Mid-evil Times when I was twelve years old, but my father on the other hand went all in. He took it upon himself to Google our surname, “Maenza” in an attempt to find the family members we never knew we had. Maenza is not a common name, we both figured, “How many of us can their possibly be?” I knew of a whole set of distant cousins in New York and Passic County but I couldn’t tell you most of their names, let alone pick them out of a crowd. Some my father reached out to and started emailing regularly. Keep in mind, this was pre-phising email scams, I don’t know how many people would have responded if we did this today. We came across a wide variety of people, some of who we were shocked to learn were not related to us. I listened to my Dad talk about some of the Maenzas he had found and exchanged emails with. It amazed me the long list of strangers that shared our surname. As time passed, life went on, and the stories about probable family members slowly faded away.A few years later, Facebook launched and soon connected us in ways no one ever imagined. Friends, classmates, and old neighbors soon started becoming reacquainted with each other. One day, I received a friend request from a woman named Lisa. I scanned the profile, thinking this was a fake profile set up by one of the many spammers who used to flood the website. After speaking to my father, I confirmed Lisa is indeed related to us. He had spoken with her and her fiance Giuseppe ( my cousin) several times. On one occasion he had sent an old family picture to them and we were able to identify common relatives.
Over the next couple of years Lisa, Giuseppe, and I messaged each other regularly. Thanks to the advent of Google Translate, we were able to communicate easily and began having more in depth conversations. We became close friends, regularly sharing pictures and stories from our everyday life. Lisa, especially, lent a sympathetic ear (or keyboard in this case) and gave me some really good advice during a turbulent time in my life. Last fall, Lisa messaged me stating her and Giuseppe had finally set a date for their wedding. The biggest news, however, was for their honeymoon they were coming to the United States (a life long ambition for both of them). They had planned to visit Chicago, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and finally New York City, a mere 40 minutes or so from my home in Northern NJ. After years of being virtual pen pals, we were finally going to meet!
Although we spoke regularly, it didn’t sink in how soon my cousins were coming to visit until about a month before. My sister, Samantha, came home from vacationing in Italy. While there Samantha, Lisa, and Giuseppe met one afternoon and really got to spend some time with each other. I quickly finalized plans with my Dad and let our other family members in the area know Lisa and Giuseppe were coming to town. The night before I had trouble sleeping, I was a little nervous and really excited to see them. I had picked up Rosetta Stone the Christmas before in hopes to learn the language but I didn’t stick with the program, luckily Samantha is somewhat fluent in Italian. My apprehensions left when I pulled up to their hotel on 42nd street and laid eyes on my cousin in the flesh. We laughed and smiled at first, which is understandable in any language.
We talked at my Dad’s house for an hour or two before dinner followed by coffee and homemade cookies had prepared. I began showing them pictures on my phone until they reminded me they’ve seen my photos on Facebook. There were times when we were quiet. It wasn’t a nervous pause or unnatural dip in the conversation, it was more of a natural enjoyment of each other’s company. Later in the evening, when I drove them back to their hotel, I took notice of how they looked at the city and realized how marvelous New York City is especially if you’ve never seen anything like it. I’d always felt it was the type of place where you can find anything and everything you could ever need or want. Almost anything at least. Although you can get any kind of cuisine you desire, see any type of show you’d like, or study the antiquities of the world at any of the city’s many museums, you can’t get what I felt that day. I don’t know if I can truly articulate the feeling; even though Italy is about an eighth our plane ride, Lisa and Giuseppe made me feel like its right down the road. Thousands of miles away, there is a branch of my family I don’t know. Luckily there are two I can say I do know and will remember fondly for the rest of my life. None of this would have been possible if it weren’t for Facebook! As for my cousins, well let’s just say I’m still using Rosetta Stone,after all it’s my turn to visit them.