The first link in the chain was a phone call. It's the old way we used to hear news from afar, and still the best when the news is bad. The inflections of the human voice affirm the shared emotions and provide support. I felt truly grateful.
The next link came when I decided to write a blog post titled "RIP Coach." I did so partly because it was cathartic, but also to honor the person because his life embodied so many of the points I've made throughout this blog. His life taught. So it felt very natural.
The third link came when I emailed someone at his school to let her know about the post. It helped me to write the piece, so I thought someone might want to read it. Not a phone call, but perhaps still helpful.
Then the links started joining fast. She responded gratefully to the email and told me she had posted about it on the school's Facebook sites for the community and alumni. Suddenly the post was getting hundreds more views than any of my others. It turns out that people had then put the link on their Facebook pages and Tweeted it. Meanwhile, people were sharing thoughts on a page set up on the school's site. I was seeing names from many years before. Some commented on the blog; I received several emails; and a few began to follow me on Twitter. I quickly sensed that these young folks i had worked with over twenty years ago had grown up quite nicely. At a much-needed time, it was powerful and affirming.
I mean that not just in a personal sense but also about social media. No, this wasn't an Arab Spring revolution spurred by thousands of Tweets or even a viral video. But it did connect people, however briefly, in a fashion and time that matter. It's all been very healthy and positive. A few years ago it wasn't possible, and now it feels quite natural. For that we should be quite grateful.
It also should remind us about some huge responsibilities about social media. We live in a reality blended of off- and on-line activity, and that has implications for the development of a whole and unified self. This goes beyond harnessing the power of these tools for their amazing educational potential, although tons of work remains to be done in this area. I still see and hear of too much behavior on-line that I suspect (hope?) that people would not do in person. Sometimes we breach common civilities because the tools can make doing so easier and more comfortable. Those are the times we must call on our better selves.
And when we do, as this recent chain of events show, social media is a gift we all can open and enjoy. The story also reminds us that sometimes the old-fashioned way is best. A phone call. Maybe even a real face-to-face conversation.