Knowing Someone from Afar

for Bonnie

It’s an interesting twist of the digital age — many of us are more connected with more people than ever before, but many of those connections are fragile, held together by words and media and posts and comments. A string of ideas becomes the centerpiece of connections, and our notions of whom we call a “friend” becomes a bit convoluted as a result, doesn’t it?

This morning, I was met with a headline that 1 billion people used Facebook yesterday. People connect. But how deep are the connections? A piece on Medium yesterday took an interesting stance on how people represent themselves in online spaces. We put our best foot forward, the author surmises.

I have been thinking of this concept of identity and connections and friendship the past few days as a very good friend, one I know beyond the wires of social media spaces and one whom I have worked with closely for many years on a variety of projects through the National Writing Project, has been in a difficult transition period, of losing her loved one and cherished life partner.

She has been powerfully articulate on her blog in capturing their lives together, documenting and archiving the love of the years. Many people, myself included, have been leaving her comments of support. No doubt the writing has been an avenue for her in dealing with loss, which moved in slow motion over the past few weeks.

This is what writers do. We write, in good times and in times of struggle. We write to understand the world.

And in her writing of the moments, she has brought us into her world with compassion and voice, and she has made us feel connected to her experiences in a very personal way.

The pieces she has been sharing also had me thinking is how much I feel as if I have known her partner, who just passed away, over the years from the many blog posts and videos and images and more that we have shared over time. I met her partner once in person, I think, and yet, his presence has been felt strongly over the years because my friend was always in the present with him. She represented her life as a partnership with him regularly, and I feel as if I knew him as well as her over the years of our friendship.

I realize there is a certain fallacy to this insight. I don’t really know the full person — who no doubt was much more complicated than I will ever know, as we all are to those outside our emotional circles —  and I am sad now that I never will. I think I knew of the person who loved my friend, and I think I saw a powerful love and partnership between them that made her happy and content. His constant presence in that picture in my mind — of them on beaches, in Israel every year, in concerts, at the breakfast table, reading books and the newspaper, traveling into the city … my mind has many moments of them together — is formed mostly by our digital connections.

And here’s the thing: in her sharing of her life with me, a friend, over the years, he will remain an active presence in the world, even in passing. In that, I will miss him, too, even if our connections were echoes in a digital world of connections. In my mind, at least, his presence will always remain a part of her, and I am thankful for the friendship and partnership that she and I have, and I am sad for her loss.

Here, though, the digital connections fall short. I can’t drive down the street to comfort her and sit with her. I can’t make her coffee, and play guitar with her. I can only send words. Writing is the way I am trying to help her through it. It’s what writers do. We write. I write this, then, for her, and for me.

Peace (for my friend),

  1. I was rich in friends,
    So glad you are in my circle
    I’m so grateful as I begin my life solo(sort of) again.

  2. So beautiful said, Kevin. I feel the same way–wishing I were closer so I could comfort our friend in person and, since I can’t play the guitar, accompany you both on the piano as you play. I miss seeing you and learning from you. I love being retired, but I do miss my TM 06 friends.

  3. Retired and out-of-the-loop so to speak, whenever I can I talk to people considering going into teaching. The other day I talked to a young woman and told her teaching gave my life “scope.” Your post, Kevin, traced a very specific example of that—meeting and working with you, Bonnie, and others that summer. And, yes, the lovely web that Bonnie folded us into the center of…with her photos, videos, and blogs, many of which were shared with Tuvia. I never met him and I miss him. And Cynthia, and Bonnie, and Kevin, and Paul, and ….all the great Writing Project fellows who met in the summer of 2007.

    • Lynn
      It is so nice to hear from you … and yes, to remember our Chico connections, many of which have stayed so strong over the years …
      Thanks for writing and checking in.

  4. This is so nice. And I wrote of a similar sentiment in my card to B, that I felt I knew T through her stories and photos. What a beautiful gift for your friend.

  5. Kevin as always your writing was wonderful and I felt it spoke for many of us who have known you and Bonnie and T. through Bonnie. Yes I wish I could hug Bonnie and sit with her for coffee, but kind of difficult from MO. I like Cynthia miss the NWP community since retirement. I do get on with Paul every now and then. Mary in Missouri

  6. This is a beautiful thing to write for a friend. 🙂 I am also amazed at how this little Internet thing has widened my world.

  7. Writing to you from Israel. I’m up early, as we both are, often and just clicking around, getting ready to write a bit, I found your letter to me, bookmarked and after a few months I read it again, slowly and was so touched by your love and friendship and then I read the comments, maybe for the first time and again, I was so touched, deeply so that anyone who doesn’t see the power of this medium. Well they are missing something.
    Over the months of adjustment, writing my letters, reading the comments, the FB likes, finally putting together our fresh collaboration has been so healing and now in Israel. It all feels so good.
    Thank you so much Kevin for your friendship,


  8. Bonnie and Kevin….your words have helped me not only appreciate your loss but also your love. I’ve found myself able to connect with your words even when my own words describing my own loss cannot be shared. You are right Kevin, words carry us all through the joys and sadness of life. Spoken, written and at shared. I hope to someday soon be strong enough to share my story.

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