Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sing The Changes

I've felt more than the usual push-pull over work, this blog and other social media venues, and life in general over the past few weeks -- issues that I've debated whether I should or should not share in any forum other than conversations and emails with family and friends.

Cindy and I watched "The Social Network" the week before last and afterwards, putting aside questions of how much was fact and how much fiction in the film, we discussed the very real issue of whether social networking, particularly Facebook but to some extent blogs as well, has become a substitute for genuine relationships and the honest expression of emotions.

Two predilections are at work in social media that seem to undermine interpersonal relationships and the need to communicate simple truths or profound thoughts: first, the compulsion to post regularly one's status on Facebook; and second, the need to post regularly to a blog, lest it become a blog without readers. Both, as the movie seems to conclude, are the antithesis of genuine communication and are at best a poor substitute for the personal sharing of substantive thoughts, ideas, and emotions.

These critiques caused considerable personal introspection last week. We received a call last Sunday morning informing us that a good friend of Kelsey's had died in a rappelling accident in California.  Matt was a wonderful young man with an infectious smile and a twinkle in his eye. He had battled some substantial demons in his life and had won; through determination and pain, no doubt, but I wouldn't have put it past Matt to have charmed the Devil himself as well.

The news of Matt's death hit our entire family hard. Kelsey had stayed in touch with Matt and they had gone hiking and rappelling in West Virginia over the Christmas break. Matt had always been exceedingly kind to Ethan, even when it would have been easier to simply treat him as the annoying little brother. They had seen each other at a 5K last year and Matt told Ethan he hoped they'd run into each other again soon. I had only seen Matt twice in the last five years, but for both Cindy and me, Matt's place in our children's lives as they went through middle and high school made the news tough to take and last week a long and emotional one.

During the week I kept my Facebook posting to a minimum and made no direct references either to Matt or to what we were going through as a family. The last thing I wanted to do was to appear to attempt to take ownership of his life, his passing, or the incredible grief that I knew his family was feeling.

After reading an impossibly positive and life-affirming story about Matt last week and then attending a celebration of his life on Saturday at which the warmth, compassion, courage, and caring of those who spoke about Matt was awe inspiring, I decided to post something here about Matt and honor and celebrate his life.

These thoughts aren't very original and are often repeated at times like this. But they are all things that Matt taught us in his too short thoroughly lived life:

Tell those that you love that you love them, sincerely and incessantly.
Enjoy creation, regardless of by Whom or how or why you believe it was created. Preferably in its wildest, most unspoiled and majestic state.
Embrace change.
Be kind to strangers.
Serve the less fortunate.
Play and don't keep score.
Love Life.

And next time, don't change your status, write a letter to a friend. In longhand. Don't "Like" a post. Give the person a call. Don't admire the pictures in someone's photo album. Go take your own.

There were a lot of wonderful quotes that were shared over the past two weeks regarding Matt and the impact that he made on a lot of people. I'm more pop culture than high culture, though, so rather than e.e. cummings or Bertrand Russell I give you some Paul McCartney, in honor of Matt:

Sing your praises
As you're sleeping
Feel the quiet
In the thunder.
Sing the changes
Calling over.
Everybody has a sense of
Childlike wonder.

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