Saturday, October 29th, 2011, 10:00 a.m.: I start composing a text to a friend named Jim when my iPhone starts auto-filling the Jim names from my contact list. Jim Gonia? Jim Hassberg? I swallow hard. Jim Hassberg was the gay brother of my high school boyfriend. My relationship with Jim survived years after my relationship with his brother ended. We were young alcoholics living a crazy, hard-drinking, delirious, urban life in tandem. But in December of 1991, I got sober and Jimmy didn’t. Last fall he drank himself to death alone in his apartment. In the flash of an iPhone auto-fill, I remember it all and forget for a moment what I was doing in the first place.
Saturday, October 29th, 2011, 10:03 a.m.: I throw up a Tweet (which goes to Facebook as well): I simply can't bear to delete the contact info of my dead friends but it makes me sad every time I see their names and numbers. Anyone else?
Almost 30 people respond, most of whom write something like me too
or I’m glad I’m not the only one
, but others say they needed to let go, and it felt like closure. One woman writes: me too. my son's cell number in my phone.
I don’t know that woman (I don’t know most of my Facebook friends), but I teared up at the unthinkable loss of grieving a child.
We just never know how sharing an honest thought or question on Facebook or Twitter might end up impacting someone else in powerful ways.
Tuesday, November 1st, 2011, 6:10 a.m.: I awake to this email from a gal who had come to the US from England with her husband Paul to spent a few weeks with House for All Sinners and Saints
over Lent and Holy Week: Paul told me about your tweet - 'I simply can't bear to delete the contact info of my dead friends but it makes me sad every time I see their names and numbers. Anyone else?'. I don't do twitter but I was so, what's the word, 'comforted', maybe, to read this. I thought it was just me. Just before our big US trip a dear friend of mine died as the result of a terrible accident. Aside from everything else he had been going to work our flights as he was BA cabin crew. It's all been very difficult, not least because, whilst we were friends for 15 years, we didn't share a friendship group and grief can be such a desperately lonely experience. My heart got broken of course and it's still hard to see how I will ever be able to think of him without tears and full appreciate what he gave to me and how he shaped me without feeling that deep aching hole he's left behind. But my spirit lifted a bit to read this - we got a new phone for using in the States and despite his death, I had to put Gwendal's details into it. Until I read your words I would never have admitted this. And I still write on his FB page. I was surprised perhaps to learn that it's not just me. Made me feel a little bit less alone in it all. So, thank-you so much for what you do. I saw what a big difference you make over there in Denver. You just made a significant dent here too.
With all good wishes
I responded to Rebecca by writing: Heartbreaking. I'm so glad this Sunday is All Saints. I'll light a candle for your friend.
I still can't believe my friend Jimmy who died this last year is really gone. And on Gmail when I begin emails and it's trying to guess who I'm composing to...when a dead friend comes up as a guess I see that as an opportunity to remember the gift they were to me and to thank God and then to just hurt a little.
Peace to you and thanks for this note.
That, to me. is the power of social media. While I understand the drawbacks—it’s disembodied, it’s a time-suck, it’s too much to keep up with—I hope that we can begin to see the beauty and real connection that allows a very human and heartbreaking moment I had on a Saturday morning to cross the ocean and give comfort to someone whose heart also breaks. Nadia Bolz-Weber is the Pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, one of the case studies of the New Media Project. She holds an M.Div. from Illiff School of Theology and is the author of
Salvation on the Small Screen? She blogs regularly on Sarcastic Lutheran. The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.