*I want to preface this post by claiming that I do have some real-life friends. And for the most part, I count them as infinitely more valuable than the imaginary ones. That being said…
Some of my favorite people don’t exist. I bet some of yours don’t either.
I’ve been thinking about imaginary friends as we all prepare to say our final “Good night” to David Letterman. I know it won’t matter to everyone that the longest running late-night talk show host is retiring, but as a chronic insomniac, I feel like I’m losing a friend. Not only has Dave been around for company when I couldn’t sleep, but his entire career has been a beacon for weird kids who always feel like they’re coming in second. He’s also proof that even sarcastic, aloof people can be beloved. Though our friendship is fairly one-sided, I will miss him when he’s gone.
These very real emotions I have for a false connection led me down a path of appreciation for all the people I know only through media, some real and some fictional. I thought of all the characters whose storied lives have brought me some kind of comfort, or company. These connections started when I was young and I found company in Francie from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Later on, I found solace in the existence of Salinger’s Glass family and Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow.
When I have felt alone or misunderstood in my own world, these imaginary friends exist as a virtual network. Even when they aren’t people who actually exist, there’s some hope in knowing that people wanted them to exist.
I don’t discriminate when it comes to imaginary friends. They don’t all have to be bookish. Many of them come from the lower television classes. After a day filled with real-life conversations filled with conflict or tension, there’s some joy in ending the day with Lorelei Gilmore or President Bartlet, especially now that our friendship is secure with the addition of Gilmore Girls and The West Wing to the Netflix library. It’s like some kind of pinkie promise that we’ll be friends forever, or until the licensing contract wears off.
I know it sounds bizarre, but in very real ways, my life has been shaped by seeing how imaginary people walk around in their worlds and what it can sound like when the world follows a good script. I’m well aware of the dangers of celebrity worship and I hope this doesn’t sound like that. Believe me when I say, I grieve for a world that buys Kim Kardashian’s book of selfies.
At worst, these connections to celebrities and fictional characters can become something close to worship, even idolatry. But at best, they can also move us forward. When we see someone who inspires us, or presents some elevated way of being human, we might follow suit. It may only be a degree or so away from the ideal of the Catholic saint system or the orthodox tradition of seeing our lives through icons.
It doesn’t escape me that some skeptics and critics of faith might use the same language to describe a connection to God, or Jesus, or a Spirit-filled life. There is the ever-present possibility that God is simply an imaginary friend, whose tenuous connection brings comfort and inspiration.
I understand this. And I embrace it. The possibility of God does inspire, counsel, convict. By all accounts, choosing a life of faith is deciding to enter a story and be guided by a script, just as my real-life friend Joe Boyd lays out in his words on Narrative Christianity.
All this to say, whether the connections are imagined, virtual or concrete, we are made better by good company. So good night David Letterman. And thanks for reading, imaginary people on the other side of the internet.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Daniel Go
Latest posts by Laura Buffington (see all)
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- Imaginary Friends Forever (#IFF) - May 17, 2015
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