Pardon me please for being overly personal and sentimental here, but have you ever been so moved by a thing that you cannot exorcise the demon until you've written about it? Alright, perhaps you find that strange, but this happens to me periodically, not often. The feeling is one of unsettled, repressed, and vehement emotion--positive or negative, perhaps both.
My mother, Karen Hammond, died in 1996 when I was 24 and she was 42. I put this in writing here for the first time, and I am at once liberated and pained. Doctors diagnosed her with fairly benign breast cancer in the spring, and after two separate mastectomys, chemotherapy, radiation, and no pot to curb the nausea, she died in October. I remember a few weeks before her passing, one of the last pleasant images in my memory, I came home from college to find her weeding her beloved flowerbed of magnificent petunias in the front of our white, blue-trimmed, two-story home in Star, Idaho. That captures the woman she was, doesn't it? Bent over, working, creating meaning, moments before death.
I referred to her as "Mumsy" for a reason I do not recall, and I find that relating this story to a caring community, through writing and social media, heals me in a unique way. It also sickens me. But, creating meaning of her life through language, to an audience, sharpens my memories of her, long repressed, paying respect to her while I suffer without her.
I remember now a moment so tender and painful that it is difficult to share. She wore a handkerchief to clothe her head when she was not wearing a wig. My dear sister cared for her right until the end. On that same trip home, my sister helped her to adjust the cover as it was slipping off. The handkerchief was blue, knotted in the back, and I sat on the couch, right in front of her, below her. In a flash, the cover slipped from my sister's fingers, she fumbling to replace it, my mother gasping and beginning to weep uncontrollably, my eyes witnessing my Mother's mostly bald head for the first time. We all wept, and I thought, in my stupidity, that our emotions were just on our sleeves.
I asked her why she wept, still a little uncertain. Her words shocked me, literally like a painful jolt of electricity. She said, "I didn't want you to see me this way." I have never spoken of this moment, much less written it down. I fear doing it now, but sharing with you helps me to see the scene clearly again.
Her words hurt me so acutely because I didn't care how my mother looked, just that she was with me. I suffer still with this moment, but I am making meaning of it in my mind as I write to you. I thought, until this evening, that she feared I might be appalled by her appearance, that her beauty was at stake--that I might be so superficial. I was wrong. She was shielding me from her pain, protecting her child. I discovered this just now.
I could share more suffering, but I don't need to. We all have experiences that are chaotic and traumatic. Yours differ from mine only in kind, and as humans we share the psychological trauma that life entails. In writing to a community, the essence of social media though by no means the only medium, we bear burdens together and learn from one another. We make order and design out of chaotic experience because without this, life becomes meaningless and random. We are, above all else, a social species. Our true humanity lies in our intensely social behavior, and therefore, much is at stake in social media. Facebook, Twitter, Google +, and the like are silly on the surface, but beneath, they provide an apparatus, a forum to work out what it means to be human--alive and dead.
I will allow you to make of this what you will, but I must tell you how and why I wrote my story.
I refer to the experience I mentioned in the opening. A video I watched on the Internet triggered the memories of my mother. Through social media, I vicariously suffered and felt the pain of another human being--empathy. I happened upon a moving Ted Talk a few weeks ago. John Hockenberry, who has won impressive awards for his sharp journalism and commentary on Dateline NBC, delivered the brief speech. It is embedded here - worth your time, I assure you.
I will let John tell his own story and not summarize it here. My summary would detract from his power, and the important point here is that his story moved me in a powerful way. I experienced his pain exquisitely through his words. But, I need to stress the main idea as I have reconstructed it in my mind. I was left troubled and disturbed until I could make sense of his message, which has everything to do with the core of social media, the real essence of what powers the media and why they thrive. Designing intentional order in the midst of chaos brings meaning to our lives as human beings. Hockenberry brought me through chaos to see design. This was his message--human beings all must design with a purpose to find meaning in existence, and sharing that order with others elevates the consciousness of the community, society, humanity.
In communicating, we participate in the human, social enterprise of ordering the universe. Language itself is a way of designing our lives together. Share your stories, design them, make meaning, and elevate the consciousness of the planet earth. They are valued. This is empathy, sharing and feeling each other's experiences.