Would You Buy Me A Coffee? (or, . . . why I’ll never raise the money on Facebook)

If we stopped at a Starbucks together and I realized I forgot my wallet, then asked you to please buy my coffee, would you?

I’m guessing (based on experience) that you would.

Thanks, I’ll take you up on that some time, but for right now, I’m leaving my house to drive two hours to Louisville to visit my good friend, E and to run in a 5K race (my first) to raise money for autism treatment. E is a physical therapist who works with small children and I think she is amazing, so I said I would do it. I’m not a HUGE runner, but I figure if all else fails; I can walk the route and still be okay.

The 5K organizers were smart and provided an online link that people can post to their Facebook pages. The link allows friends and family to donate online; it doesn’t get an easier. Right?

Wrong. That’s where the problem comes in – it’s too easy – too easy for people to ignore.

For the entire month my link was posted, I received only two donations out of 500+ “friends” on Facebook, and that includes about 20 family members. I re-posted the link several times asking for more support to no avail.

Now, I know that if I’d been standing right in front of most of my friends and family asking for five dollars to support me in running this race, my results would have been drastically different. Why?

Because it’s hard to say “no” to a face. A face, you can’t ignore. That’s because the faces in your life belong to you; not to the person whose body they are attached to. They are yours! They’re part of who you are and what you think about. You, of all people, know in intimate detail the subtle wrinkles around the eyes and mouth that foretell someone is getting ready to smile. You’ve seen a friend’s eyes begin to darken and lower as they try to hide their sadness. You recognize that unmistakable brightness that transforms a beloved’s face when they spot you in a crowd of a hundred other faces. That is why it belongs to you. It always has something to tell you, if you pay attention. You connect with this glowing portal, this lively screen of information. In real life, faces are all you have.

I have a friend who has a daughter who was diagnosed with autism. For the first two years of her daughter’s life, my friend felt sad and confused. It was her first child and she didn’t know what to think about her daughter’s behavior. She didn’t sleep well. She wasn’t very affectionate. She seemed to ignore or avoid almost everyone. She didn’t respond well to anything other than the TV.

It was a little hard for me to understand what my friend was going through until another friend pointed it out to me. She said, “Can you imagine being a mother and your only child, who you love with all your heart, doesn’t show any affection toward you. And perhaps even worse, won’t respond to your attempts to show your love toward her? No cuddling, giggling, smiling or laughter?” Suddenly, I really got it. And I thought about all of the people I love and their faces and how much those mean to me.

Children with autism have trouble connecting with other people. Of course they want to love and be loved, but their fears and frustration with making that happen are right out in the open. And when you think about it that way, we all struggle with love and acceptance, with being completely open and honest with our feelings. We all face rejection and secretly wish connecting with others wasn’t so risky. None of us like to admit it but it can be confusing and scary when we put our feelings on the line. Autistic children just aren’t very good at hiding it.

So that’s why I’m running in a 5K for autism – to try to help bridge the fear-filled chasm that keeps some people from connecting, to maybe bring a smile to the face of a child whose mother really needs to see it, to spend real time with and support my friend E in the work she does every day, because I’m grateful for having her beautiful face in my life, because Facebook is not enough. Not even close.

What I’ve come to realize is that Facebook is not for you. It’s for the owner of the page, to document their life in pictures and words, to seek validation and worth, to find out if anyone is paying attention, if anyone cares. I recently heard Jim Carrey say (in all seriousness) during a commencement speech, “Your need for acceptance can make YOU invisible in the world.” And that’s why I’ll never raise the money on Facebook.

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