Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “I broke the internet,” as crowed by those whose posts go viral. Recently, I had the reverse experience. The internet broke me. I was casually scrolling my Facebook feed one afternoon and read an announcement from one of my Facebook friends about the death of her seven-year-old grandson. As I read N’s very poignant description of her grandson’s last hours—his baby sister asleep beside him, the kindness of the nurses and doctors that cared for him in his final hours—something inside me broke. I cried my heart out for N, her family, her grandson and the countless families around the globe faced with coping with the death of a beloved child.
I do not know N well at all. We are Facebook friends as a result of a mutual professional affiliation. My tears came not from sharing the grief of someone close to me personally, but rather from a deep and hallowed place inside, connected to a more universal anguish. I could not bear, in the face of this sacred heartache to read another Facebook post. I closed my laptop and let the hot tears flow.
This experience changed the way I approach Facebook, at least for now. I post occasionally, respond to tags, and check in with the groups I manage, and continue to chat in Messenger with contacts, but I no longer mindlessly scroll the feed. It is not that I want to avoid these emotional catharses. On the contrary, I welcome them. They reassure me that I am still a deeply human creature, capable of being cracked open by tragedy and moved by sorrow. What I cannot bear, and choose to avoid, in the face of such profound feeling, is the compulsion to keep scrolling…to move on to the next post. Instead, I am pressing “pause” in order to hold space for the sacred—to allow for long-form compassion.
I am grateful to N for her post, for her bravery in making this intensely personal story public, and for the way she honoured her grandson so tenderly. More than anything, I hope it comforted her and her family to write about this awful loss. Her post reminded me that in grief we share a common humanity, and that this deserves our reverence. Social media and digital engagement can have a numbing effect. It can be superficial, distancing us from one another even as we reveal the details of our daily lives. N’s post brought me once again to the brink of my own holy brokenness, and beyond that, relief. I am human. We are human. Despite the technology between us– the metal and plastic devices that mediate our contact, we touch one another, and deeply. If you are moved to, as I was, make an online donation to your local cancer research agency, or children’s hospital. We can share our love, along with our sorrow. Let’s use the internet for good.