Facebook is a twenty-first-century fixture, a staple of life in America and abroad. Its detractors have written volumes about its destructive, negative capabilities. I admit that I do allow myself to be sucked into the negativity – during political seasons or when something “egregious” happens in my world that I deem serious enough for Facebook debate. Once in a while, though, the good people win out. In ways that make all of us think about our lives – on Facebook, at home, at work, or at play.
I was not popular in school. I can admit now that most of it was made of my own doing. But I loved performing, particularly in groups. I loved music. So it was only natural that dancing would also attract me. My school had a dance team – pom-pom dancers, “Warrior’s Pride” (what a name!!) and I wanted desperately to be a dancer on this dance team. I tried out at the end of my freshman year. I think that I must have been one of those rough around the edges but not untalented girls! Ha! I did not make the cut that year. I did meet one of the girls who was already on the team. Lori. She appeared to me to be one of those wildly popular girls, yet she was quite nice to me. I remember being sort of taken aback and even suspicious. You know, it was like “Huh? What…..me?” She encouraged me to work on my skills and try again next year. Now, I do not want this to sound like we became best friends. The following school year came and went and we would pass each other in the hall, smile and say hello. That was it. Sounds like nothing. But to me, it was a whole lot of something. I could be wrong here, but I’m going to say that only people who struggled in school with what I will just call “popularity issues” will understand this.
Spring of my sophomore year, I tried out again and made the team. Because I had taken her advice and because I wanted it. Bad. She was a senior, and I think she was actually one of the judges. I recall vividly her telling me how well I had danced. Praise. Acceptance. These were foreign experiences for me at that time, and it felt like someone had knocked down a wall between the person I was and the person I was capable of being.
Years passed. With the advent of Facebook, we all gradually became more connected. Friends, relatives, co-workers, former co-workers, “former” this or that… and people we knew in high school. Why not? We aren’t children anymore. Somehow, Facebook felt like the great equalizer to me. Lori and I found each other on Facebook a few years ago. Again, we did not become best friends or anything. It was a casual Facebook acquaintance. I read her posts. I hope she read mine. Of all of the people I friended under the guise of increasing my group of friends, of all of the “ok, why not?” friends, she was one of the few who stuck out in my mind. She posted frequently about her work activities always in positive terms. She was the anecdote for all of the people who foolishly complain about their jobs or employers for the world to see. Sometimes when I was in a bad mood or just in a prolonged funk, her posts annoyed me. I would think “what is this woman on? Nobody is this cheery and positive ALL the time!!” But mostly, I relied on her posts. I relied on that interjection of positivity. Most days, her posts would guarantee a smile, no matter what else was going on.
Last week I was sitting in a booth selling raffle tickets at a sporting event. The game was in progress, so there was no traffic in the halls. I sat and had a lot of time to think. I was struggling with some events and conflicts between people in my life that had grown increasingly unpleasant, and in particular, my involvement in the unpleasantries. I had been on the giving and receiving end of some hurtful emails and I was just plain ferklempt. As I absent-mindedly paged through Facebook to distract myself from my thoughts, something caught my eye. My breath caught and it felt like someone had stabbed me in the gut. Lori, the cheery girl from high school and my Facebook “world”, had passed away. As I struggled to process this news, it dawned on me that I couldn’t remember the last time I had read a post from her. Stunned, I scrolled through all of the RIPs. I learned that she had struggled with ALS. Who ever would have known? Her last post was on June 8th. It was a photo of her newborn great niece with the simple caption “I am a proud great aunt”.
As the days passed, I could not stop thinking about her. The thought of this cheery, positive, fitness-oriented person being taken from the world due to ALS seems like such an abomination to me. It’s more than that, though. Maybe this came to be during a period of conflict and it’s hitting me hard because of that. Maybe I’m tired of conflict. People will always disagree about this or that, but when the disagreements disintegrate to the point where opinions are not respected and anger goes off the wall, the result is sadness and overwhelming fatigue. On top of all of this, the news of her passing felt like someone had taken a sledgehammer to the top of my head.
Lori’s death affected me so deeply because she represented the opposite of what I was experiencing at the time. Lori represented that small population of individuals who manage to live as though life is a privilege rather than a right. She had ALS, for God’s sake. Are we so naive as to think that she did not ever cry or curse? Of course not. But it’s what she did with her situation to inspire others – directly or indirectly, in life or after her death, that will be her legacy. It’s how she never let the disease become the person that she was. How is it possible that someone such as myself who is so casually connected to her has felt her death so deeply?
Lori represents that intangible thing that so many of us are missing in our lives. Maybe we had it and lost it. Maybe some of us never had it. Maybe it’s just lurking below the surface of our conflicted, stress-ridden lives. It shapes our reactions and responses every day, every minute of our lives. It comes naturally to some of us. Others have to make a real effort to incorporate it. When we embrace it, our world will be colored in shades of yellow and rose. When we lose it, life is grey and nothing makes sense. When we embrace it, we know that we are not alone. One word, one feeling, one mindset that has the power to change the world. Empathy. RIP Lori. We are the lesser for your passing, but maybe we can keep you alive by interacting with one another as you would have.