Saturday, July 26, 2014

In Loving Memory: Stephen "Steve" Kersten: May 24, 1965–July 5, 2014

Dear Steve,

I wrote the above and then have stared at the blank rest of the page many times, because I hardly know where to begin.

It was my good fortune to work with you for seven years. And when I think of all the colleagues I've had over the years, you are definitely in the favorites category. Early in my time at the company, we were in different departments, and our interaction was relatively limited. But I remember even from that time that you were unfailingly helpful and of good humor. During your "unscheduled break" from the company, you gave of your time and knowledge to help me understand tasks that then fell to me, which was certainly above and beyond the call of duty. I remember how excited I was when I learned you were returning and would be joining our department. And I even got to sit across the aisle from you for quite a while after that. We shared many good conversations and much laughter, not to mention a shared love of Celine. You added so much enthusiasm, passion, knowledge, and fun into our days.

And when my Ron died, you were an understanding presence in the workplace, something that is rarer than I even understood at first. While I wouldn't wish firsthand knowledge of real grief on anyone, I was grateful to have someone nearby who got it.

I regret that I didn't keep in touch after I myself left the company, and that therefore, I didn't get to tell you about the changes in me that have happened since then. But I believe that you know about them now, as I believe that spirits who pass to the other side of the veil can hear when we speak to them (which is why I speak to you now and of you in the present tense). I hope that you are proud of and grateful for the ways in which my mind and heart have changed.

And now I'd like to say a few words to those who love you most—your partner, your family, and your dearest friends: The thing is: there are no words. There are no words adequate to encapsulate this experience. There are no words that make this better. Words may be powerful, but they are not that powerful. All I can say that I hope can serve as a tiny candle lit in the darkest of dark rooms is this: Love never dies. It is my hope that the love you had and have for him and he for you will sustain you in the days to come. Long live love.

Steve, you enriched my life and the lives of everyone who knew you. I will always be grateful for that, and I will never, ever forget you.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

In Defense of a Little Social Media

So there's this video that made the Internet rounds last week. Ironically as you'll see, I wouldn't know about it without social media, as I saw it posted on Facebook several times early last week.

It's a spoken word performance by a young man named Gary Turk, with accompanying scenes, all about how we should all stop paying so much attention media. It has been viewed over 35 million times on YouTube.

The video could be summed up with this statement: "This media we call social is anything but, when we open our computers and it's our doors we shut."

And he's right, of course. Many of us are way too glued to our devices, reading things other people have typed, viewing pictures other people have posted—and not spending time with those people. Typing out things about our lives—and not calling or hanging out with anyone.

And do I do this too? Yes, yes I do. (I even have multiple Twitter accounts, for crying out loud.) Oh, and he pegged me with that girl sitting on her bed. I do that daily, for far too many hours.

But here's the thing: Social media has often been a lifeline for me. On too many nights and weekends to count, when I didn't have the wherewithal to do much else, social media allowed me to feel connected, at least in some small way, to hundreds of people I might never have kept up with otherwise.

Just some of the people I'm grateful to have discovered
through social media. L to R, top: David Haward,
Rachel Held Evans; bottom: Addie Zierman, Jim Palmer.
And—it has broadened my horizons in amazing ways. Without it I might never have discovered some voices that have been welcome influences on my thinking. People like:
And those are just some that come to mind right away. There are many more.

Some of the specific examples Turk uses of the ills of social media also just aren't true across the board. For example, he says that "...we all share our best bits but leave out the emotion" and "We edit and exaggerate, crave adulation. We pretend not to notice the social isolation. We put our words into order until our lives our glistening. We don't even know if anyone is listening."

I'm sure there are many people who share only the good things in their lives. People who are (consciously or unconsciously) crafting a "happy, shiny" persona on social media, probably, at least in part, because of our culture's obsession with avoiding or suppressing "negative" experiences and emotions. Well, I am not one of those people. I don't post every sad thought or emotion, but I don't eliminate my experiences with and emotions related to depression, loss, and grief—among other things—from my social media postings. Why? Because that edited version of me would not be real. Far from it. And I would rather deal with my own and others' reality—even the sad realities—than live in a world where everyone is fake.

And for me, nothing could be further from the truth than,"We pretend not to notice the social isolation." You can bet I notice when I don't have the energy to go out and be with people and when I go home to an empty apartment every single day. And again, I don't pretend otherwise.

Toward the end of the video, starting with where he says, "Be there in the moment, as she gives you the look that you remember forever as the time love overtook," there's a montage of a guy spending time with his girlfriend, getting engaged, starting a family, seeing kids grow, becoming a grandparent, and holding the hand of and kissing his elderly wife before her heart's final beat. And the implication seems to be: Disconnect from social media, and you'll have romance, family, and a long life. Well I've got news for him: nothing guarantees those things happening. Being more present may make them more likely and if they do happen, more successful, but it can't make them happen.

I've left for last what may be the single best benefit of social media in my life: through it, I and thousands of others who've lost the one we intended to spend the rest of our lives with have been able to find community and support. The very thing Turk says is driving us all apart has actually facilitated the coming together of these people to bond—incredibly—over shared experience and to help each other know that we are not alone. That knowledge and that bond can be life changing.

The Soaring Spirits community—hope personified.'s to a little social media. How 'bout we just incorporate a little balance into our use of it?

Oh—and then there's this:

Just sayin'.