Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Amazing and Heartwarming Power of Social Media, Part 2

In my last post I talked about how great Facebook has been for me in terms of having a built-in support system. In this post I want to talk about a couple instances of Facebook bringing people together and reminding me of what I believe is the basic goodness of humanity. Which is something that, if you read the news, you may have doubts about. I know that from time to time I sure do.

In December of 2010, shortly before Christmas, I lost a dear friend named Alie. Although I knew Alie in Real Life, I didn't get to spend a lot of time with her. We were separated by distance, circumstance and for about the last year, by the confines of her illness. Even when she was well, Alie wasn't a social butterfly. In fact, she was a bit of a recluse. Because of Facebook, I was able to get to know her much better than I would have if I'd had to depend on infrequent visits. Even more old-fashioned methods of communication wouldn't have worked for us. Although Alie was a talented artist and a great friend, she wasn't much of a writer and she hated talking on the phone. But Alie loved the Internet. Here she was able to move past her social anxieties and her physical limitations and socialize with lots of people who played the same online games and shared her interests in Pokemon, cartoons and Japanese toys. Through Facebook and other message boards and websites, lots of people were able to get to know Alie and many of them- including some of my Facebook friends- came to love her for her gentle personality, and empathetic, generous nature.

After Alie passed away, there were no services for her and those of us who knew her felt we'd had no closure. Alie was an artist. She worked with children because she understood them and the things that were important to them. She loved little bits and pieces of interesting things that other people had discarded and much of her art was based around found objects and drawings of sweet, cartoonish dogs. She also spent many of what she considered the best years of her life living in the city of Detroit. Alie loved the city and found beauty in its decay. I wanted to honor Alie in some way and after doing a little poking around on the internet I found an organization that I think Alie would have loved, called Arts & Scraps. It's in Detroit and they recycle cast-off industrial materials as art supplies for under-served kids. Through the Causes application on Facebook I was able to set up a Holiday Wish in memory of Alie and asked people to donate $10 or what they felt they could afford. My friends and I, most of whom had never met Alie, raised $195 to benefit Arts & Scraps. I was touched that people would donate and I know Alie would have been as well.

Thanks to social networking, I was able to honor my friend in a way that would benefit someone else. Thanks to my friends and Alie's, ninety-eight children will take home a bag stuffed with art supplies. Ninety-eight children will receive the power to create, to potentially discover a talent or a hobby that could change their lives. Not a bad legacy.

Add to this the over 43,000 people on Facebook who have turned out to Pray for Baby Miranda and I get a pretty warm and fuzzy feeling. Baby Miranda is the child of an elementary school classmate of mine, Chad Cole. I haven't seen Chad since probably 6th grade, nor can I say I've really thought about him much since then although I remember him as being a nice kid. We weren't particularly friends and he disappeared to go to another school at some point, I'm not sure when.

I happened to be in my hometown of Jackson, MI this weekend and heard about a car accident I might not have known about otherwise. Snow was coming down fast and it was windy. The roads slicked up in no time and a crash occurred on I-94, near the Dearing Road exit. The news of a fatality from the accident traveled quickly- Sara, the 35-year-old wife of my former classmate who was expecting their first child on February 23, was declared dead on arrival at Allegiance Hospital. For a while it looked like there was one positive. Doctors were able to deliver Baby Miranda alive. Because of the trauma Sara had received to her uterus in the accident, however, Baby Miranda had been without oxygen for too long and she was born with no brain activity. Doctors gave her until Tuesday evening and so Chad and his family were able to spend some time with their new family member. Sadly, Miranda Cole never developed any signs of brain activity and she was removed from life support Tuesday evening. In the meantime, Chad continued to update what had been the blog tracking their pregnancy, Our Little Secret. It's heartbreaking stuff, for sure.

And yet... in the midst of this tragedy, someone started a Facebook group inviting people to pray for Baby Miranda. And the numbers started climbing. Now I'm not a particularly religious person and I'm not usually much for prayer groups. I respect it, it's just not my thing. But I know how important it is to feel supported. And I can't imagine the grief this newly widowed man, who I remember as a child, has yet to face. Sara and Miranda are at peace, but for the third member of their family, life must go on. Chad's situation echoes that endured by a dear friend of mine, quite a few years back. Life goes on, but it's never really the same. The miracle here is that over 43,000 people from all over the world, stand in support of this man and his family. There will surely be moments ahead of him where even the love and support of 43,000 strangers, family members and friends won't feel like enough. But in the end, faith and the joined hands of a community of strangers supporting him may just begin to seem like enough again and spring will come and the sun will shine again.

For me, Baby Miranda helps put things in perspective. I may still feel panicky and a little lost. But my personal losses are minimal and fleeting. It's a reminder that whether it's a group of 10 or 43,000, people are still basically good and kind. That if you're lucky, just when you feel the most alone, there are people who you didn't expect to be there, lifting you up.

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