I experienced my first Facebook bereavement the other week. It was quite shocking. A man who had written some interesting comments on posts – not just mine – had been quiet for a few weeks, and I suddenly felt prompted to look at his page. I felt a little foolish wondering, even worrying about his absence. Probably he was on holiday. He lived in Belgium and I knew he had family in the US. It was a very strange experience making my way backwards on his Timeline. First there were comments from friends and family which sounded like he might be away or travelling. Then there were just some ‘x’s and ‘o’s. And then there were some poignant comments, from memory they went like this – ‘I went into your flat and I saw your shoes waiting for you by the door’. ‘I went through your papers today, I know you wouldn’t have liked that intrusion into your privacy but I had to and it made me feel closer to you.’ ‘I miss you….’
I experienced a dawning feeling of horror as I scrolled down the page through comments of shock and sadness from others, and then finally reaching confirmation of the by now obvious news. I felt peculiarly unsettled by this experience, and almost like an intruder, as I had never met this man. I hardly knew him. And yet his death was also a loss to me – admittedly not a huge loss but one just the same. When I pause to think about it, why shouldn’t there be deaths and losses on Facebook as in any walk of life? And why should they be less important or impactful, or even less real? We trivialise our internet connections as part of the whole social pressure to ‘not take things too seriously’.
Although I had never met this man face to face, I respected his comments. He felt that people used Facebook in the most banal ways. He introduced a different type of comment onto his page which was thoughtful and well-received. He prized courtesy and good manners – not as unthinking rituals but as signs of care and respect – and he re-posted an article another friend of mine had shared about how the ‘niceties’, saying ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’, were falling into disuse. (The article wasn’t all gloom and doom though as it talked about how new conventions for showing gratitude and making connections, were emerging.) He was a role model who did his best in small but important ways to make a positive contribution. He had a faith in being human.
So I missed him. I got over it – faster than if he’d been someone I knew in a more complete sense. But I do think about him and the little glimpse I had of his character and life. And somehow it made me feel all over again that whatever and however the connections we make – whether face-to-face or on Facebook -, they are meaningful and an important part of the fabrics of our lives, even if they are slight or passing.
I had another more direct encounter with death a few days later. I went on a a familiar walk which requires me to cross a field that is sometimes occupied by grazing cattle or sheep. On this particular day when I got to the entrance, a large group of cattle, maybe 30, were huddled near the gate. I had a bad feeling, but they all legged it to the other end of the path so I thought I’d go in as turning around would have added a half hour I didn’t have to my already moderately long walk. They were down near the cattle grid that I needed to cross so I decided to give them a wide berth to give them time to move on. The opposite happened, and the next thing I knew all 30 were racing towards me. I shouted and clapped but this only seemed to excite them further, so I sized up the situation and realised if I didn’t turn and run to leap over a fence, I might regret it. They chased me and I just managed to hurl myself over the fence before they were there. They raced past me to another far end of the field.
Having a fear of heights, I couldn’t get back over the fence without the adrenalin rush. And I needed to re-enter it to get back on track. So I rolled under the fence with the cows a good distance away and – I couldn’t believe it – they raced at me again! I ran over the cattle grid as they pounded past me on the other side, and made my way home.
I felt shocked but strangely triumphant, which seems a strange response. I still can’t help but focus on the achievement of hurling myself over a fence that I can’t climb, rather than the fact that I came this close to being seriously injured if not trampled.
At another time I might have focused on the darker potential outcome. But right now, I am feeling in a right place. It is a feeling I can summon just by thinking about it at this moment. The incredible lightness of being – you really feel it as you throw yourself over a fence! I guess it’s a feeling that is always there, but for some reason it is more available at this time. I don’t know why.
I sat in a spring garden just coming to life last weekend, in between two wonderful performances of 18th century dance tunes by Boldwood, and thought:
Three times in three weeks I have been at talks and conferences and I have felt in the wrong place. That has felt really good! Feeling in the wrong place has been accompanied by a feeling that I am really in a right place even as I am indifferent to what is taking place around me. A lot of things have just fallen away, and it is confirming to hear these people talking around me, and think no, this doesn’t mean anything to me right now, it is a space- and time- and life-filler.
This feeling of satisfaction or contentment, holding the germ of excitement (nothing like complacency), is unlikely to last. Maybe it’s spring, or a new financial year, or the fact that at last there is rain, or a line that has been drawn, or the fruit of a practice – I can’t say. Just a feeling of balanced clarity and a happiness at having shed some of the load.