I like many people can be found on a myriad of social networks. We all use these networks for different things: to give, receive, share. I virtually live on Twitter. I remember when I started living on Facebook. It was the place to “find me” if you needed me – (Mom). Yes, when I moved to another country with a twelve hour time difference, I found it difficult to keep in touch with good friends and family via “email” – as if it were some ancient form of inconvenient communication or the phone. Facebook was great. One status to my 800 and something friends and BAM!, everyone knew everything. (I am still a Facebook purist by the way – I actually know them all.) I have friends who joined Facebook specifically to keep in touch with me. I put my parents on it. Convenient. All my contact details, my travel schedule, where to find me. Or so I thought.
Well, these days, I am on Twitter. Facebook too, but if you need me and you need me now, Twitter is the way to go. People that know me well know to DM (direct message) me if they want my attention. I felt that way until I was in California on a business trip recently. I had my Hong Kong phone off and only gave my US number to my parents and the people I needed to speak to in the US. I woke up to someone knocking on my door at the crack of dawn, as it turns out not looking for me. Frustrated I was woken I opened my laptop, loaded Tweetdeck and in the DM column among a bunch of Spam and Auto welcome DMs was:
“The Memorial Service for Steve is Sunday at 1”.
I’ll pause while you take that in.
What? Memorial Service? What do you mean “Memorial Service”???? This was the first I was hearing that my dear friend had even passed away. I had to deduce it from those brief words. No one knew how to get a hold of me, and the person who sent the tweet assumed I knew. Through a Tweet. I found out my friend died through a Tweet. The more insane thing is to confirm he had in fact passed away I had to go to his Facebook page. I had no one’s phone number to call to find out what had happened until a mutual friend messaged her phone number. There were already messages of condolence posted on his page. I sat there alone in my hotel room and cried at my computer screen. No social network could possibly replace the voice or hug of a friend that I wish I had at that moment.
This experience isn’t going to make me change the way I communicate, but perhaps reflect how I want to be communicated with. It is just one of those situations that makes you take a step back and ask, “I know I’m approachable, but am I accessible to the people in my life that matter?”
There are many things in life that we encounter that seem overwhelming, difficult or important at the time. Then you come across a situation that puts it all in perspective for you and watch how others handle that situation with awe inspiring grace and it makes all your worries seem petty and insignificant.
I had such an experience today. Flying back to the states for the first time in a year in not the best of health on not the most of luxurious of airlines I was in a moaning mood at best. I first noticed this family of four children at the gate while talking to a fellow American I had picked up as a travel buddy on the last leg of the flight.
The little girl, not yet even a year and a half I would later learn, was crying non-stop and was being coddled by what we discussed had to be her grandmother. I couldn’t help look around for the mother. Our conversation about this family led us to discuss how it must be so difficult to travel with four little ones in tow. I said hello to the crying girl and she was curious enough to stop crying for a minute to smile. Then they disappeared onto the plane.
For the first couple of hours you could hear this little girl crying and crying. When I got up to go to the bathroom I passed the grandmother holding her and I stopped to rub her back and say hello again. I asked her if she was tired from traveling, The grandmother told me that their mother had died suddenly last Saturday from a heart attack. Just died. Collapsed and died. No warning. No pre-existing condition. A mother of four, a YOUNG mother of four, and a young wife, poof – just gone. It floored me.
A little later when passing them again I was speaking with the husband, now a surviving father of four children. His parents and her parents had flown all the way to Shanghai to help him with the trip back to the States for his wife’s funeral. He was amazed at all the support that was there for him and how much strength he and his older two girls had found. Their composure was incredible. I couldn’t help but talk to him and think about their future and about what they had just been through. He said they felt an outpouring of support from both loved ones and strangers. The eight and five year old understood their mom had died, while the three-year-old boy understood she wasn’t there and the one and a half year old just didn’t really understand at all.
I saw them from a distance one last time after I got my bags. The five year-old tugged at her father pointing at the carousel, “Isn’t that Mommy’s luggage Daddy?”. Holding the little one, he stroked her head, “Yes honey, that’s Mommy’s luggage.”