Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mortality, Mourning, and Social Media

Yesterday, my social media inputs were thrumming with the collective mourning of many of my Presbyterian colleagues.  Through Facebook and Twitter and blogging, we were remembering and celebrating the life of Cindy Bolbach, the former moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly.

Though I was not as close to her as many, I'd known Cindy, for, well, a while.   I remember her first from my home congregation, where she was a grown-up and I was still a scrawny little Presbypup.   Then, I mostly remember her being impossibly tall and imposing, and clearly a Person of Consequence, which remained true even when I'd grown up a bit.  When I was preparing to serve my first congregation as a pastor, Cindy called me on behalf of Presbytery to make sure I knew what exactly I was getting in for.   I didn't, of course, as much as I thought I did.  That you understand you're about to run a class five rapid in an open canoe with a paddle made of jello does not mean you know yet what it's like to actually have that experience.   But I did know that I was called to be there despite its hardness, and Cindy had the spirit to receive that.  So we had a pleasant conversation or two, and a laugh or three, and the brightness of her mind and laugh still linger.  She was, as Willy Wonka might put it, a good egg.  She'll be missed.

Musing over her passing over and how it has echoed and sounded across the virtual reality I inhabit, I also found myself marking the reality of death and suffering as it expresses itself through this peculiar new form of human communication.   Because as we share our lives through this substrate, that goes further than puppies and memes and pictures of dinner.  Life includes illness, and loss, and tragedy.  Inevitably, for we are all mortal, it will include death.

As the social media generation ages, this reality will only deepen.

For some, the loss and brokenness and tragedies of life will manifest themselves as withdrawal.  Feeds will go silent.  Statuses will go un-updated, silenced by death or sorrow or shame.   For others, this media will allow for openness and sharing of suffering.  It will...and does...permit us to cry out into our communities of care, and to know we are heard.

Already, this is so.  It's why pastors now must have a presence in social media.  It's a vital way of hearing our communities, both those that are physical and those that are virtual.  Already, I attend carefully, because those wrenching moments surface often on Facebook.  A father, suddenly in a coma and then just as suddenly passed.  A silence, as depression claims the vibrancy of a soul.

What will be interesting...odd, perhaps, for human when the wave of us who are fifty and fortyish become sixty and seventyish.   In that place of life, passing grows more commonplace.  But for this generation, social media is assumed, an integral part of how we interact.

"So many of my friends are passing," say those I know who are older.  Will that feel different, I wonder, when it is not just a circle of intimates?  Will it feel different when it is the echoes of five hundred acquaintances, as the electronically mediated network of souls that are the fabric of all of your relational knowing wanes into nonbeing, letting the breath return to the God that made it?

We'll just have to see.