A friend of mine announced today that he has pancreatic cancer and is in hospice.
And in that bombshell of a sentence, the word I debated using the most was “friend.”
See, I’ve never met this person. I have only ever communicated with him through Facebook. I was introduced to him by a former boss, a person I had a lot of respect for, and even though she was conservative in her views, she saw that we were both secular liberals, and put us in touch. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to know him, he has made me laugh and made me feel less alone. I have come to recognize his name with joy, and respect his words. So even though I’ve never met him, I don’t hesitate to call him a friend—and I don’t even feel the need to add the qualifier “Facebook” to that word.
His communication that he was dying was honest and dignified. He said he accepted what was happening to him, that he was OK with where his journey had brought him. It was a sharp reminder that we should all be so lucky to make the same claim, and an inspiration to this atheist of what I strive for. Happiness, contentment, love. The true meaning of life, the most important things.
I have had family members die that didn’t make me cry, but I cried today for this man I never met. For the reminder that all of us have a time limit, and that all good things come to an end. For the bitter fact that life isn’t fair. Out of gratitude that I live in an age where it was possible for me to meet him without meeting him.
Social media gets a lot of flak, much of it deserved, but it is a force for good as well. Today, as I think about my dying friend, I’m thankful for it. It allowed me to not only get to know this person, but also to experience his last digital words, his acceptance of his fate. That is something I will treasure until my own time comes, when hopefully it will serve me as well as it served him.