Thursday, September 15, 2011

This Strange World of Cyber Friends


How do I explain these tears?
They leap out of my eyes, coming from someplace deep inside.
They are hot and painful, coming in waves,
sometimes accompanied by heaving sobs.
This makes no sense.
At least not in the way I have always experienced life,
relationships, connections, community.

Until, of course, I began exploring this thing called the ‘internet.’
‘The Web,’ we used to call it in its earliest days.
And that’s an apt description for what I have learned since January of this year.
There is an immense, tangled, wonderful web of connections
out here on the cyber waves.
Lines crossing every which way,
connections showing up in the strangest,  
most serendipitous places.
I have tried many times to reconstruct how it happened.  
How did I become entangled in this massive silken structure?
I simply cannot follow the threads back to their origins.
I think it started with Ann.
Voskamp, that is.
And Gordon.
One of them led me to the other and I can’t tell you who at this point.
But I know I was reading Ann a lot during the last year of my pastoral life,
printing off blog posts, passing them around at centering prayer retreat days.
And I know I sent the link to Gordon’s former website to my colleagues, saying, “Here’s someone who speaks the truth with love (and humor!) - check it out!”

So, when I discovered all this ‘time’ on my hands in early January,
I began checking out things like:
The High Calling and
And, in an effort to see what was really out there,
I’d follow comments I liked back to their author’s websites.
And somewhere, very early on, I discovered The Gitzen Girl.
Sara Frankl,
an angel in human flesh.
Living the most contained, boundaried life I have ever read about,
never leaving her condominium home,
(for the last three years!)
seldom leaving her bed,

Sara had the miraculous audacity to title her blog,
"Choosing Joy."
Because that's what she did, that's what she does,
every single minute of every day:
she chooses joy.
Accompanied by the wondrous Riley, a white puff of a dog who always knows exactly what to do to bless his sweet owner’s daily life, this woman has written powerful truth, 

sometimes with tongue firmly planted in cheek,
sometimes with heart bleeding visibly on sleeve,
always with depth and truth and love. 

So I explored her blog, peeking into the three years she has been recording her life, 
 answering the questions of her readers, 
 posting photographs of her lovely small nest.
And I learned about her dreadful health situation.
And her amazing singing voice..
And her remarkable way with words. 

I felt my spirit brighten every single time I saw her name in my inbox, and almost always, I read her blog before any others.
Her story was simply remarkable, almost not to be believed -
and yet there it all was, in black and white and living color.
Using arm braces and immense powers of will and spunk,
she wrote life-filled words and took lovely, informative photos.
Though no longer able to lift her voice in song,
her written words sang to so many of us.
They sang of a good and generous God,
even through a life of constant difficulty.
They sang of a faithful Savior, a gentle Shepherd who worked in her a series of real, deeply true miracles.
Not physical ones, but spiritual, emotional and mental miracles,
helping her to discover, within the confines of her limited life
that the human spirit can indeed be limitless
when relinquished to the care of a loving and ever-present God.
The closest parallel I can come up with is Anne Frank -
both young, beautiful women whose lives speak of intense suffering.
Both writing of hope, with humor, vulnerability and love.

Her name didn’t show up a couple of weeks ago on Thursday night.
She is always among the first to respond to Lisa-Jo’s Five Minute Friday posts, and being a night owl (as I am), she generally wrote hers in the very early morning. When I didn't see her smiling face, I got this funny feeling in my stomach:
I wonder if Sara is all right.”
Several days later, a friend posted that she was taking a
‘sabbatical’ to rest for a while, as her body was  struggling more than it usually did.
Yesterday, that dear friend, using Sara’s words from a previous post, wrote the most eloquent announcement of her impending death.
She is on hospice care,
friends and family have gathered,
she is peaceful, able to talk (carefully), and listening to her loved ones read to her from the hundreds and hundreds of comments that 

 'Heading Homeward' post has received.
I subscribed to the comment feed and they are pinging with regularity, all last evening, all during the long night, all day thus far (nearing 600 at this moment).
Friends gathered outside her window with candles and sang hymns last night.
Sarah in Vancouver, Lisa-Jo in the suburbs of D.C., me in Santa Barbara and dozens of others lit candles during our own evenings, thanking God for this life.

I do not know this woman personally.
I have never spoken to her or seen her.
She has replied kindly to a couple of comments I left on her blog.
That is it.
And yet, finding those words late yesterday afternoon caused the most spontaneous and deeply felt grief - it literally hurt to read them.
I know she is heading home, home were she will be whole and free
and filled with joy.
And I am joyful for her and with her.
But I am also so, so sad.
I will miss her very much.

And that, my friends, is a very good thing.
Can you see it?
This wonderful, amazing web:
it can most assuredly be used for much that is evil and wrong.
But, oh my - it is being used by our God for
the sharing of beauty and grace, courage and hope;
there is a real and meaningful co-mingling

 of laughter and of tears,
there is community.
I don’t understand it.
I just know it’s very, very real.
Thanks be to God.

 I wrote this post this afternoon because somehow - I had to. But I'm sending it over to Bonnie the Faith Barista's link today, the one on friendship. This is not exactly that - my relationship with Gitz was not two-sided in the traditional sense of the word friend. Yet, I am indeed gaining friends via this unique and expressive information highway. Some of them I will actually sit in the same space with in just a couple of weeks. And some of those dear folks ARE actual, real-life friends with Sara. 
So call me a shirt-tail friend - I'm proud to be one!
Also sending this one out via Richella's Imparting Grace and Emily at Imperfect Prose: Imparting GraceFaithBarista_FreshJamBadgeG