COLUMN: Who needs gifts when you have friends?

In my case, I’ve had so many of them and through those years have accumulated so much stuff I don’t need anything else...

There comes a time in your life, and in this instance it appears once a year, when you are challenged with the request, “What do you want for your birthday?” and you have no answer.

In my case, I’ve had so many of them and through those years have accumulated so much stuff I don’t need anything else, unless of course it is very expensive, in most respects frivolous, and way out of the budgetary constraints of anyone interested enough to consider such generous gifts.

So it was last week during the gift suggestion phase leading up to my writing this on Nov. 25. All I really want on my annual recognition of growing older is to be fit and able to experience another, 12 months hence, and preferably a few more following that.

I was however, after stumbling downstairs for my first cup of coffee, smiling at the handwritten “Happy Birthday Mark” message placed before the machine. Then my morning routine kicked in: let the dog out, retrieve my daily newspapers from the gate box; read them in the garage while indulging in my (so far not) life-shortening habit of smoking, and enjoying that cup of coffee.

When time came for a second dose of caffeine, I also gathered up my phone to check for incoming messages, and there was revealed, like it or not, the incredible reach of social media.

My email box was filled with messages, most of them due to the one who gave me the handwritten greeting, posting on Facebook my annual recognition of birth, from many of my Facebook friends. Obviously in this world of instant information, very little goes unnoticed.

Those kind words from many friends, relatives and others who follow Facebook were as good a gift as I could ever want or ask for.

My only question is, what are you all doing on Facebook so early in the morning?

Prior to social media, everyone read newspapers or switched on the radio or TV to find out what was going on.

Today most information is gathered through social media: FB, Twitter, Instagram etc. Which, amazingly, does provide a vast amount of often interesting and usually entertaining stuff.

But in many ways it is like cocktail party chitchat – quick and brief, a wink and a nudge, then move on.

There is little that is in depth, even more rare a quote or two (or YouTube video link) about the ‘topic de jour’.

Then again, perhaps that is what “social” media is all about – simply being in contact, on an almost instantaneous basis, with friends, sharing what makes you smile, “liking” what they do, say or share, and maintaining a face of friendship on your phone or computer.

In the old days, someone moved away and I lost touch. Today I can follow through Facebook a friend’s transition from grieving spouse to a new life as a first responder, watch through posted photos her daughter grow up, share with an old friend his journey from advertising sales to the ministry.

And from my end, those who are “friends” on Facebook can personally enjoy, or suffer, my occasional posts or pictures.

So thank you Facebook, and my many friends, for giving me a birthday gift that can’t and won’t ever be bought in stores or on-line – continued friendship, often from a distance that only the Internet can bridge, and your genuine best wishes.

They are beyond gifts, and I am grateful.