In addition to this blog being about my writing and ramblings, I also want this to be a space where friends and colleagues can share their opinions and gifts. As a result, I’m soliciting guest posts. I got this one from my friend Martyn a couple of weeks ago. As a result it’s a hair out of date, but it’s poignant and still relevant. On a day where we are remembering other tragic events I hope this will serve as both an encouragement and that it pertains even to this, a national tragedy.
A friend of mine is sick. Now by this I don’t mean that he is cool and funky, as the more youthful among you might surmise, although he is definitely both of these. Neither do I mean to imply that the person in question has highly dubious taste in entertainment and extracurricular activities. No, my friend is the kind of sick that prompts people to pack overnight bags and make urgent travel plans.
This won’t be a blog about my friend. There are currently plenty of those online, all of which warm and break hearts in equal measure. But if you do find yourself able to help his family out in any way, either financially or with anything else useful you can offer, then please do visit this page to find out more – http://www.gofundme.com/pgfund
One thing that this awful situation has brought up is the nature of friendship online. It’s a curious thing to be a part of an international community that shares its grieving publically, and on forums that allow us to interact across vast distances. In some ways it makes things worse. Although social media can be infuriating at the best of times, with constant jabbering about inane subjects, or the more vicious comments threads that can spring from the innocent of posts, I still return for more on a pretty much hourly basis. Yesterday, I turned it off and walked away. Not because someone was invoking Godwin’s law after only two comments on a happiness and free unicorn thread, nor because I was trying my best to avoid spoilers for a movie or TV series finale that some people feel is their duty to announce to the world. No, it was a lot simpler than that. Yesterday my stream was just far too sad.
There has been much written about the echo chamber nature of online life. In essence we gravitate towards those that agree with our points of view, thus justifying our standpoint to ourselves – because I can’t be wrong if all my friends agree. In reality I’ve always found this to be somewhat simplistic. Many of my online circle have vastly different standpoints to me, and I prefer things that way. It allows me the chance to learn plenty from them and maybe, when conditions are right and the moon is in its curious phase, dispense a few pearls of wisdom of my own. The one time when this community does come together in a single voice is invariably when one of us is in trouble. It shows the strength of the bonds between us, but can also be overwhelming; my friend’s horrendous illness being a case in point. Within minutes of his tragic state becoming public knowledge my feed turned from random videos, article links, and witty comments, to one of anger, confusion, pain, and outpourings of genuine love and affection for someone we all respect hugely. It wasn’t long before a fundraising initiative to help him and his family was set up, raising and incredible $10,000+ in only a day. Memories were shared, profile pictures changed to feature happier times where we stood at his side, and each of us began to walk virtually together through the terrifying truth that one of our own would shortly be leaving, far too early for it to seem even remotely fair.
On so many levels it was magnificent. Here, at a moment of great need, we could close ranks and show a solidarity of spirit that many physical communities might struggle to muster. Our weapons would be video, audio, and written messages sent to his bedside from across the globe. Their purpose to let our dear friend realise before he slept that he had made a difference, left his mark, and would be remembered always by so many people. It made me very proud of this rag-tag bunch, many of whom I’ve only met once or twice in the several years that I’ve called them friends. It also reaffirmed to me that online friendship can be the equal, or even trump, those that so many deem superior merely due to physical proximity. But it also reminded me that there is distance between us, and the effects of this caught me quite off guard.
When I read of people going to visit my friend to pay their respects, and the tremendous sadness that these quiet farewells induced, it left me feeling isolated, almost envious of their chance to look him in the eyes one last time. It highlighted to me how we can carry our friends in our pockets, or in our laptops, but the simple truth is that we are corporeal creatures and that sometimes nothing can beat a hug. To share the same air with someone, hear them laugh again, and see the vulnerable honesty of tears falling. It reminded me of the final scene in the film ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ where, and there are spoilers here, as the two young boys find themselves in the most terrifying of places they instinctively reach for each other and clasp hands before the lights fall.
Here, as our small cadre of friends face the spectre of our own mortality, I feel the strongest of all desires to reach out my hand and find another frightened soul embrace it. To feel the heat, sweat, and frantic pulsing of blood to accompany my own. Of course we all share our pain, sorrow, and fears online, which is a positive, helpful thing. Indeed, this was the reason for me having to walk away yesterday, as instead of the shocked few conversations and quiet contemplation that grief usually brings in the physical world, I could instead see the cumulative breadth of people’s anguish. Peer inside the minds and hearts of so many, all at once, crying out in sadness. It was almost unbearable.
I heard someone say once that modern news coverage is something that is actually detrimental to us as people, because we were never meant to see the extent of suffering in the world. We can cope with what is near to us, but when presented with the woes of an entire species, it would damage our ability to hope. Now, I’m not entirely in agreement with this, although I do find myself filtering the amount I read about global conflicts, diseases, disasters, and governmental oppression. On one hand it is because they are truly depressing subjects, but on the other I admit it is because it does make you wonder whether there is any real purpose for us all, when so much horror exists and persists with little challenge against it.
The internet has brought so many incredible advances, and I still maintain that it is the most important invention of the modern age. What this whole experience leaves me to wonder though is whether it will take a generation that grows up with a global perspective as their norm, to truly realise its potential. For the first time in a very long time, I feel less a native in the brave new world.
Martyn is a freelance writer, musician, blogger and podcaster.
When not chasing his children around the house pretending to be a dragon, he can be found in the various coffee shops of London ‘writing’ his novel.