The world is a little different than it was when I was growing up. Until I was in college, we didn’t have email, text messaging, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, selfies or cyberbullying.
When we got a new job, went on vacation, got divorced or lost a grandparent, we told our close friends – or we didn’t.
Now everybody knows everybody’s business, and I actually think it’s nice to have a window into the lives of people we care about but don’t necessarily talk to on a regular basis.
My generation is not totally comfortable with having an open door to the divorce proceedings of a girl we went to high school with, notes on the fundraiser for a casual acquaintance who lost both her kids in a car accident or the blog from a childhood friend battling bulimia. We don’t know how to respond … We can’t “like” posts based on tragedy.
We can, however, encourage, comment, pray and connect. There’s more than one person in my Facebook feed who has a kid with childhood cancer. I’m able to get those people in contact with each other.
Kelli Campbell, who I’ve known since I was 8 years old, lost her husband Shawn, a Klein High School and Texas A&M graduate who went on to become a U.S. Marine, in a helicopter crash in Hawaii in January 2016. I never met Shawn. I honestly don’t know Kelli very well, although I spent about a thousand nights in her home in high school because her older sister Christie was my best friend. I have prayed for her and got to attend a memorial service for her family in our hometown. I even got to share her personal story in The Sealy News on the anniversary of the Marine Corps last year.
I’m not sure if I would have known about what was going on in her life if she hadn’t had the courage to publicly share it. She posted the other day that her son got to throw out the first pitch at a Kansas City Royals game. That warms my heart and there’s no way I would have known that if not for social media.
She’s not even 40 years old yet and she’s a widow with four kids just trying to hang on. Her story is inspiring and many from our circle of friends from Bryan-College Station have reconnected just to rally around Kelli.
I think she feels a little weird talking about loss and celebrating joys and grieving in public. Sometimes when people experience tragedy they say that they feel guilty when something funny happens and they find themselves laughing. How can you laugh when your husband died? You can because you have to. You have to laugh for those four children. You still have to suit up and show up to life. And those of us who care about you need to know that you’re OK.
“Sometimes I hit ‘post’ and immediately cringe thinking, ‘Why did I just do that? No one wants to hear this,’ But then you respond and you say, ‘Me too,’ and you pray and you remind me that it matters,” Kelli wrote the other day. “Sharing our hearts, being vulnerable, speaking truth in our communities, it matters. We are all fighting battles and behind every picture-perfect Instagram life there is mess and chaos and tears. You encourage me and I pray my words encourage you.”
That’s pretty powerful. Sometimes there are things we can’t talk about. When I got divorced I hit “ignore” every time a friend tried to reach out to me. I just wasn’t ready to discuss it. I couldn’t get a word out without crying. But after a couple of years I was able to write about it.
My friend Heather, who lives in Missouri, posted a few months ago that her husband had been arrested. She created a private, invitation-only group to share updates on his case. He allegedly molested her children (his stepkids), a boy and a girl. He pleaded guilty last week and was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Now this just feels plain dirty to read about. It feels even dirtier to share it. But I actually really appreciate when people let us into their lives, even when it’s not so pretty. I’m not going to call Heather; I don’t even have her phone number. But through this private Facebook group, I can see if she needs gift cards or meal delivery or how her Texas friends can pray for her.
I’m probably more of a busybody than the average person. I like looking at people’s Facebook photos because it helps me know what’s going on in my community. Occasionally I get to share some of those stories in the newspaper.
But let me say this, when you share a personal story, people feel connected to you. We all are flawed and have experienced heartache and turmoil. Being open about it can almost definitely help someone else.
We support you in your agony and we celebrate your triumphs. Being open is therapeutic, and you may have more friends out there in cyberspace than you think you do.
April Towery is the managing editor of The Sealy News. She can be reached at 979-885-3562 or via email at email@example.com.