I am not at home. Yesterday, it was from my laptop–set out on my mother’s dining room table in mid-state Florida–where I learned about a death of a 47-year-old husband and father. It has been from that same perch where I have been observing my small town’s response, exclusively on Facebook.
While deeply felt emotions and the offering of condolences had been, for eons, shared and offered in person, that standard shifted with the installation of telephones and the cultural tendency to set down roots away from one’s childhood home. Then for many generations, a call would have to suffice for going back home. Today a comment, for many, replaces that call. Although I have been one to criticize this vehicle of truncated communication, I have come to believe–especially in the last twenty-four hours–that this is how many of us connect to each other. I have also come to believe that this can be both effective and deeply heartfelt.
We have become a culture of people who can announce the tragedies of their lives through typing words from a keyboard and clicking “post.” We have become a community of readers who can feel the wind knocked from their lungs and the tears pool in our eyes when we learn of loss and struggle–and death. It is because we have allowed this social media to be–truly social–that we can find the offering of condolences and the appreciation for their sentiment authentically meaningful.
I would venture to guess that more than half of the people I am “friends” with are residents of my hometown. I have been reading their words, hearing their grief.
Over the last twenty-four hours, I have been thinking of both the immediate injustice of the death of a, relatively speaking, young man and his wife of sixteen years and their four young children. I have been reading the words written on Facebook about his death.
People who have no idea who this man was to his family or his community have offered their condolences and words of sadness for the gaping hole he has left. People who knew him well and watched his battle against cancer have been able to say much more intimate words than me. Scores of people in town have changed their profile pictures to one of this man and his wife taken last July when he was smiling, though visibly battling the illness that would take him from his family and friends less than a year after the picture was taken.
The injustice of his death has triggered an the outpouring of sadness for the family and offerings of support. From the screen of my laptop on my mother’s dining room table, I will continue to read the deeply felt words and the appreciative replies until I am home again–in a place that will feel slightly different to me due to both his death and a renewed appreciation for those with whom I share a zip code.