Secrets are about to be spilled.
I have another identity. My husband Jim did as well. We both commented under, shall we say, specialized names, on two very different websites.
I am not at liberty to disclose Jim’s site or four-syllable nom-de-plume, but I can say he authored some mighty entertaining limericks and haiku.
Mine is a blog to which I came during the 2008 election season. Jim and I both daily surfed Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight and a number of other politically-oriented sites and blogs, but there was one site in which I settled as a member of a cyber-community.
My name is Quince, and I am a Mudpuppy.
My name was chosen on a whim from the sturdy fruit—somewhat of a cross between an apple and a pear—which grows so bountifully on a tree outside my husband’s dream home that the tree lists dramatically to the right (at odds with the family’s political sentiments), nearly to the ground, after years of bearing its autumnal burden.
I was drawn in by the wit and wisdom of the blog author’s posts, then enfolded in the spirited fun and lively, free-ranging discussions on the site’s forum.
I bring this up because it has illuminated for me facets of friendship and community in this age. I have been befriended by people I have never met in person. Candles were lit for my husband on at least three continents. As we planned my husband’s memorial service around an empty table, a delivery of abundant food arrived from an amazing member of this forum who lives five states away. I found out later that she even had called one of my sisters-in-law to find out how many vegetarians would be on hand.
In real-life I know a few other forum members, but for the most part–as far as I know, given that we all post under other names–I would not know others were we to come face-to-face.
I wonder if I would know them by their voices, because, as Honoré de Balzac wrote in Père Goriot about good old-fashioned letters, the way one uses written language is so distinctive, “so faithful an echo of the speaking voice that to the sensitive it is among the richest treasures of love.”
During the same period when someone who had been a member of my family for a quarter-of-a-century (and evidently was embittered towards one of my siblings) did not offer a single word to Jim or me (although I later found she had invested the effort to “defriend” us both as Jim was dying) there were good-hearted people I knew only through their words who offered immense support, including an impartial ear.
To be able to speak freely to kind people who did not know Jim was a unique gift in a situation where everyone close to Jim and me had his or her own emotional pain and shock to deal with.
The phrase “the gift that keeps on giving” has developed a certain ironic cachet, and I’ve used it myself in eye-rolling political commentary. Members of this particular cyber-community helped me look at a perennial gift in another way.
Weeks after my husband’s diagnosis I returned from an oncology appointment with him and found a box that had traveled across the continent, carrying magenta flowers from a member of my cyber-community. This kindness not only was a gift in itself, but also instantly brought back other wonderful gifts—the wildflowers Jim picked and brought to me at the hospital the morning after our first child was born, the sunny coral and yellow roses my friend Barbara sent when our winter daughters were born, the Christmas flowers a detective sent to me when (in my real-life day job) we had just wrapped up a wildly entertaining investigation that had devolved into wiretapping the dumbest-ever drug dealers we had encountered–so much so that arresting them seemed less than sporting.
Whether it is tangible or not, the unexpected gift will be remembered.
(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon