Last week, someone in our community lost her home in a fire. She tweeted about it, and the community rallied (not least because of this dear woman), and although there’s no real happy ending when someone loses so much, it seemed, at least, that one could keep faith with humanity as caring and good. But then – almost immediately – and inevitably – the criticisms came. Why was she was tweeting? Why should someone so irresponsible be supported by the community? Why should the community support anyone they don’t know? What is this ‘community’ thing that everyone is talking about, anyway, because, seriously, how could anyone think that the Internet has communities? There is, after all, no there there.
I’m not going to speak to the question of community support – I have about eleventeen thousand words to say about that, that I’ll save for another time – but I can speak – have spoken to – the question of why we tweet in those moments that seem to defy tweeting – why, indeed, tweeting during those moments tells us something about the very nature of tweeting, and of social sharing generally. Those words, repurposed, are below.
When I received the call telling me that my father had died, I cried. I cried loud, I cried hard, I fell to the ground and clutched at my aching chest and I wailed. And then, curled up on the floor, phone in hand, I tweeted.
A few weeks ago at SXSW in Austin, Texas, the lovely Karen Walrond sat me down and asked me a few questions about heartbreak. Not about the sad and the terrible and the woe-is-me of heartbreak, but about the beauty of heartbreak. And it was a wonderful and, I think, important conversation, because there is beauty in heartbreak, such that it’s actually misleading to call that exercising of the heart a break. The heart never really breaks. It pulls and stretches and moves and expands, and that movement can hurt terribly, but it’s not a movement toward breaking. The heart is not bone or ceramic or glass, Debbie Harry’s assertions notwithstanding. The heart, as I’ve said before, is a muscle. Its movements are extraordinary, even when they hurt. I needed to remind myself of that.
My dad wore Brut aftershave, the kind that comes in that opaque green bottle with the fake gold medallion. He didn’t wear it a lot, but it was the only aftershave that he used when he did use aftershave, and so it burned into my psyche – along with cigarette smoke (Players) and aged leather – as the smell of my dad. After he died, and I went to work cleaning out his home, I spotted a bottle of it in his bathroom, tucked at the back of a medicine cabinet, coated with dust. I thought, that bottle is probably fifteen years old, and then I shut the cabinet and went back to sorting through his things.
He had, as I’ve mentioned before, a lot of things. I hired a dumpster that remained parked in his driveway, and the process of cleaning out his home was one long cycle of sorting and deliberating and carting and tossing. Some things were easy to sort and toss – the ancient tins of soup and boxes of spice and broken furniture and old bedding that was too worn for Goodwill – but other things were more difficult, like the little plastic baggies filled with clover leaves – he was determined to find his four-leaf token of good fortune, it seemed – and I found myself, too many times, hanging over the edge of the dumpster, second-guessing something that had been thrown away. I didn’t get in, though. Not until I remembered the Brut.
I labored over a post about this, view about this dark anniversary, about how this year has changed me, about how I still cry. But the words were confused, the sentences messy, the paragraphs long, the ideas incoherent, and it occurred to me that I do not need to struggle to put everything into words. That not everything can be captured in words.
Emilia wants to know what happens when we die. She asks a few times a week, on average, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on whether or not we’ve spoken about my dad or about Tanner or about dinosaurs. Today, she asked because they’d been talking about the Easter story at school. She wanted to know why Jesus got to fly up into the sky, and Grandpa didn’t.
You burned him, didn’t you? she asks. How could he fly after that?
Explaining death is one thing. Explaining the cremation, the afterlife and Divine resurrection are something else entirely.
I don’t quite know what to say about Joannie Rochette. I’ve been stunned by her bravery, humbled by her strength, amazed by her determination in the face such terrible sadness. When my father died, it was days before I could even walk in a straight line, weeks before I could hold myself reliably upright. After losing her mother, Joannie Rochette strapped on her skates and competed for an Olympic medal. Incredible. Courageous.