His face popped up on the right side of my Facebook page, and he was suggested as a friend.
“You have 51 friends in common,” Facebook told me.
Which meant that we knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody, who knew each of us.
He looked familiar, and had a nice face, round, honest, and welcoming. As I so often do, I clicked the button, and off went my request to be his ‘friend’ on Facebook. And, as I so often do, I completely forgot about it. Facebook requests and suggestions come and go every day.
“So-and-so wants to be your friend.”
“Bob Brown suggests that you become friends with so-and-so.”
“Your friend request has been accepted. You are now friends with so-and-so.”
And on it goes.
Another day, another batch of friend requests, and suggested friends thrown out by the Facebook algorithm letting me know how many ‘friends’ I have in common with people I may or may not actually know or have met.
My Facebook family tree was growing. My ‘friends’ numbered in the hundreds.
Another face popped up as a suggested friend, but I wasn’t sure if I had sent him a friend request or not. He looked okay.
“You have 62 friends in common”, Facebook told me.
So, I sent out another a friend request, and was on my way.
Click. Click. Comment. Scroll. Read. Post. And life goes on.
A few days later his face popped up again. This time I was sure I had seen it before and that I had sent him a friend request and that he had not responded.
“Humph. What’s up with that? Well, okay, then. I’ll try one more time. Now we have 72 friends in common. If he doesn’t want to be my ‘friend’ after this, well, that’s okay with me.”
I clicked and off went another friend request. And once again, I forgot about it.
Just this morning he showed up once again on my Facebook page as a suggestion for someone I should become friends with.
I know who he is now.
One of my best friends in the real world told me a classmate of his had died. Then I received a group email from my alma mater. I saw his picture, the same picture that had been popping up every other day on my Facebook page.
He had committed suicide.
I didn’t know him well enough to know why. I wasn’t that kind of friend. I wasn’t even a Facebook friend.
Though we never spoke, I remember seeing him at school.
“Hey Joe, I want to be your friend. Please be my friend. Come back. I really mean it. Not just online. I’ll drive down to L.A. We can get a cup of coffee, or some fresh-squeezed juice, or a shot of tequila. Whatever you like. Just come back.”
I know there are some real sad people out there, Joe’s real family and friends, people who knew and loved him. There’s going to be a memorial service. Joe had just finished a spiritually based program along with one of my best friends who said the program had changed his life.
But I guess for Joe the change wasn’t big enough or fast enough or of the right kind. For him, his time was up. He could go no further, at least that’s what he must have thought or felt.
I wonder how long his face will remain on Facebook? Will I continue to get suggestions to ask him to be my friend? Will someone inform Facebook?
“Dear Facebook, please stop suggesting Joe as a friend, as much as I would like for him to be my friend, the time for that has passed.”
Or do we just allow things to go on a usual with Joe’s face appearing now and then on our screens as someone we should become friends with, his face and name thrown out there by a computer algorithm that reminds us that we know people who know people who knew Joe? Or does someone take over Joe’s page, a friend or a family member, and handle it in Joe’s memory, making friends with people Joe might have made friends with had he lived?
I don’t know. I just wish I could have been Joe’s friend. I wish somebody could have been his friend in a way that would have tilted the scales for Joe so that he could have happily remained amongst the living. I know this is what must really be paining the people who knew and loved Joe.
“Could we have done anything to have kept this from ending this way?”
It's a very painful question after the fact, so I hope all those who knew and loved Joe can let him and themselves go in peace.
There will always be suffering. There will always be pain. There will always come a day when, one way or another, each of us will die. But there will always be life. For as long as conditions allow, there will be life. That’s true too. And though this stretch of the journey is over for Joe, we hope and pray that wherever he is, his suffering is lessened, and that he is continuing on his way.
In his honor, if we want to really be his friend, we must do what we can to lessen the pain and the suffering of the living.
Joe was gay. I’m not saying that’s part of the pain he suffered. I’m not saying that’s part of why he is no longer here. I did not know him. But I do know that as a people, a country, and a planet, we have caused our gay brothers and sisters a great deal of unnecessary suffering.
So, as we take a moment to reflect on the passing of a fellow human being, one we might or might not have known, we ask that we do the work that is needed so that all human beings, whoever they are and wherever they might be, are not caused to suffer unnecessarily by our own thoughtlessness, fear, greed, or prejudice.
Though we did not connect while he was alive, I feel connected to Joe now. In spite of all its faults and weaknesses, Facebook made that possible. Meaning and connection are waiting for us wherever we look, even on our homepage. We just have to take the time and make the effort to see it.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 805/680-5572.