Grave Markers For The New Millennium
When our virtual persona outlive us what is the right thing to do with them? Should Facebook pages of the deceased become their grave markers? Will Facebook be haunted with virtual ghosts? Or, should our pages RIP with our other belongings?
We caution children about the content they post, explaining it can take on a life of its own. When we issue these warnings do we consider our own mortality? If asked, most of us would say that what we share online is a reflection of us-the lives we live outside of the virtual realm. Though we would be wise always to operate under the belief that nothing sent, published, tagged or posted will ever be a secret again, as humans, we likely do not always follow such a conservative protocol. It is difficult to always keep the fact that potential employers, love interests, neighbors, friends and enemies, will peek at our virtual selves and judge us on what they see. Although we want our online persona to show our best selves (for the most part) it is beyond our ability to consistently maintain awareness that everything we do online becomes a part of the public domain forever.
Now that Baby Boomers and GenXers have entered the second half of their lives, there are more stories about posthumous Facebook pages because we are finding that online personas have a power and life of their own.
Messages From Beyond
On a blustery Saturday in the winter of 2012, I received a message from my Facebook “friend.” I didn’t know she had died seven days earlier. I clicked on the little quote, but instead of a Happy Holidays wish, it was her sister, also a friend of mine and old college roommate, who was writing to me. Her message was a personal obituary for which I wished I had been warned. A flashing red message box might have prepared me. Pancreatic cancer had claimed her sister, and my Facebook friend. Formal services were held earlier that week.
“I thought you should know,” the message read. “I was going through her things, and saw you played Gardens of Time, but not until after the funeral.”
It was true – we played a few Facebook games together. She and I had reacquainted after more than 20 years apart. I gushed about Facebook reuniting people like us. Her house at the end of Main Street in my artsy, eclectic hometown was the center of all action back in the wild 80s of my youth. As a teen, I baby sat her children. I hung out at her pool nearly every summer day day between 1985 and 1988. She was elected as our driver when we saw Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason concert at the Vet in Philly. After graduation, I went to college, and from there started my adult life. I forgot about high school, my hometown and my friends from there for a while.
In 2012, I asked her “Would we have ever met up again without Facebook?” She said no. We shared brief messages like this before trading requests for items in the games we loved to play. “Please send me a present, so I can build my fountain?” I clicked and sent a request to her about four times a week. One or two days later, the gift was delivered to my inbox. This back and forth went on for a year, during which time she never mentioned the chemotherapy, radiation, nausea, sleepless nights, losing her hair, and the suffering she endured.
On June 26 2014, the news of another friend’s untimely demise shook me. I found out through a cryptic post on Facebook.
“Goodbye Marquis!” It read.
“Huh? Couldn’t be.” I thought as I punched out a rushed comment on my phone, hoping to quickly dismiss my suspicions.
“Sounds weird.” I wrote. “Did the Marquis finally go native to that giant Congo in the sky? Message me privately.” I referred to things only friends and readers of his would know. He had visited Africa and written a book about it, entitled “Going Native.” My high school friend’s message back was quick. It confirmed my worst fears.
“He died. Sad to say he hanged himself. I guess he always was the master of his own destiny, so in a crazy way, it makes sense. Hope you’re well.”
I wasn’t well though. I felt sick. He was only 55 and I hadn’t spoken to him or seen him in years. We weren’t even friends on Facebook, yet I felt as if I had lost someone really close. I felt guilty about not being there for him, strangely enough. He was one of those staples that towns like ours come to rely upon. He defined what was cool about us. He was well educated, irreverent by accident mostly, I think, and a living dichotomy. He was a writer, a junk man, a mower of lawns, a connoisseur of French cooking and wine and a country man who loved antiques, but who had lost everything he loved in this horrible economy.
“Damn. That’s really bad news.” I messaged back.
“Shitty eh? Sorry to have to tell you the hows of it all.”
The messages ended.
When Should Megabytes The Dust?
In 2012, I called a friend for advice.
“What are your thoughts about death and Facebook?” I asked him.
He told me about one of his friends who had died a year ago. “On his birthday and anniversary, this whole social circle pays homage on a Facebook page. They post that they miss him, and they share memories…maybe leave virtual flowers,” he described.
What do you do?” I asked.
“It’s all too strange for me. I don’t go,” he answered. “Too macabre!”
I contemplated Facebook pages as virtual shadows. I turned to my friends the poets for guidance. Has the digital age silenced death’s finality? Will social media give us more comfort as we grieve?
In Macbeth, Shakespeare wrote:
Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury Signifying nothing. — Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)
Robert Frost’s last line in”Out Out,” which is inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, reads:
"And they, since they were not the one’s dead, turned to their affairs."
Will it be our friends and kin or the courts who will turn to our affairs once we are dead. Who will decide for how long our sound, fury and megabytes shall live on Facebook?
By Robert Frost
The rain to the wind said,
“You push and I’ll pelt.”
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.
By Julia Fine
Stems refuse a staid wilt.
Blooms choose to revive!
Flowers lift up from brown silt
With a strength that betrays their size
And acute-angled tilt.
Gardens tend to be rebuilt.
What’s It Mean?
I showed a friend my new blog when he tilted his head to one side and asked “What’s the title mean? It’s kind of weird don’t you think?” He carefully chose his words. The question motivated this post, which explains why I named it “You Push and I’ll Pelt.” I thought it wise to write a post about the subject, as potential readers might pose similar questions.
Perusing for inspiration in a book of poems, I randomly turned to “Lodged.” This little known gem of a poem about flowers that take a beating from wind and rain was almost too apropos. Perhaps the title will attract other poets, Frost fans or curious readers? Though odd sounding, I instantly fell in love with the words, Push and Pelt. I had found my title.
The words, I think, are a gate keeping mechanism, or as some might even argue, protection for my delicate ego, since the title may not generate a ton of interest. I want curious, well-read, open minded readers. I respond well to constructive feedback, but stupidity is another story. I defend my values like a pit bull, and I’ve seen bloggers chased away from forums by angry, anonymous commenters. Since, I would get wrapped up in that type of fight, I liked that this title might appeal to someone like me—clearly not a marketing decision designed for the masses.
Also, it doesn’t sound like the names of other blogs. Being status quo is so dull. I believe most people aren’t as boring as they’d like to appear. For me, normalcy is a stressful facade, a mask we all wear at some point or another—some better than others. I take the road less traveled because it’s where I feel most at home, and I wear the normal mask when a situation demands it. Society prefers the consistency and reliability that normalcy offers. It’s comfortable for the collective. However, individuals pay the price in the form of lost creativity, connectedness and intolerance for our glorious differences.
Life Only Gets Harder
My mother laughed at my tears in high school when I threw tantrums about the kids making fun of me. I wasn’t popular enough, skinny enough, or rich enough for my tastes. I complained about having to wake up at 6:00 AM every morning, and Mom would sing out “Lazy bones, sleeping in the sun. How you ‘spect to get a day’s work done?” Then, she’d add, “Enjoy these problems now. Life only gets harder.” “How could life get any harder than 10th grade?” I thought, but of course, she was right.
There are times when Hurricane Katrina-like storms are unleashed upon us. When I cried to my father, who was fighting liver cancer, about life being so crappy he smiled and said, “Yeah but what’s the alternative?” It was meant as a joke, but there’s been times when I needed to remember that he smiled when asking the question.
The storm in my life brewed for years, and when it finally hit, its fury stunned me before I dropped to my knees. It twisted and turned me around so badly that I had to retreat. It was then that I seriously thought about his alternative. In the eye of the storm, I met other survivors. I found that nobody is alone with their struggles. Nothing can prevent us, rich or poor, healthy or sick, from trudging through tough times. “Lodged” reminds me that nothing escapes the shadow of seemingly bigger powers. We’ve got to make the best of it. We’ve no alternative but to get through the storm, pick ourselves up from the silt and rebuild our gardens. As much as events can push and pelt us down, great moments lift us higher. My sky brightens when I blast “Ode to Joy” in my car and cry, which is inevitably followed by laughter that I’m crying. Clouds dissipate when I spend sweet time with Frost, Burns, Shakespeare, Path, Lowell, Stevenson, Emerson and Wordsworth. The sun peaks out when I stand mesmerized before the dappled light in a Monet series. It gets even brighter when I finish a novel that tears at my heart; Steinbeck is the biggest offender. I once threw “Of Mice and Men” against the wall – HARD. The final sentence made and ruined my whole week in one fantastic instant. There are real people who’ve inspired me too. The sun would shine down upon us and the temperature rose when my husband would spin me on the dance floor. I always loved the way he moved. When my girlfriend and I could just sit for hours together without uttering a sound and still know what each other was thinking about. These are the moments that feed my desire to go on, to grow and that give me faith brighter days are beyond the deep valleys filled with tears.
Bring It On
Big snowflakes rarely last, driving rain storms taper quickly, and delicate things like flowers, egos and the human heart come equipped with flexibility enough for the rebound. My blog, “You Push & I Pelt” represents the first step in a personal rebuilding. The title honors what I hold dear: being slightly off-center, having integrity, loving poetry, respecting truth, and honoring the universe that guides me.
Like my add-on poem above, I’ve pulled myself from the silt ready to push and pelt right back. Bring on the next round. This time, I am determined, wiser and more focused. I am tough, but balanced by a more empathetic, experienced heart. My eyes and dreams are cast toward the light, yet I won’t forget how the flowers felt.
I am unabashedly proud of my unique perspective. I don’t care about popularity or meeting others’ standards. It’s time to celebrate my wins, losses, joys and propensity for melancholy. For years, I wandered lonely as a cloud rarely sharing my writing and never asking for help. From that journey, I’ve learned how flowers bounce back. They can do more than curl up and just survive. I am reaching out to join the thousands who line the garden path tossing their heads in this sprightly dance we call life in the 21st century.
Daffodils (an excerpt)
By William Wordsworth