I’ve been thinking a lot in recent days about my friend Leslee. At least, I think she’d agree that we’re friends. We both lived in St. Louis at the same time, ran in the same circles, and while we didn’t get to know one another as well as I’d have liked, we always enjoyed each other’s company. And I think we’d have become better friends if I hadn’t moved to Ann Arbor in 2005. Although, considering Leslee’s always off gallivanting in some other part of the globe, teaching English or generally doing good, it’s hard to say for sure. Instead, my friendship with Leslee has moved primarily to Facebook, “liking” a comment here and there or leaving a smart-ass remark on the other’s “wall.” As with many of my Facebook friends, I haven’t actually laid eyes on Leslee in a very long time.
Yeah, I know. I’m aware that cynics denounce Facebook and other social media as substitutes for “real” friendships. I get that they’re the lazy person’s way to stay up-to-date on people’s lives with just a mouse click. And I know that it’s far more de rigeur to roll your eyes and declare oneself “over” Facebook, but I love, love, love the fact that it has allowed me to keep tabs on people I might have lost track of otherwise.
This is all swirling around my head right now because on March 1, her first day back in Korea, Leslee was hit by a car in Daegu. To clarify, with details that tell you enough about Leslee that you’ll start to feel you know her too: she was in a taxi when she witnessed a car accident and got out to help the victims. When she did so, Leslee was struck by another car. She sustained massive, life-threatening injuries, including multiple broken bones and damage to numerous internal organs.
I may never have known about Leslee’s accident had it not been for Facebook. And I’d have missed out on one of the most moving, uplifting uses of social media I’ve ever had the privilege to witness.
Within hours of the accident, a friend of Leslee’s had created a Facebook group for her friends and family. It garnered hundreds of members in extremely short order and quickly turned into an online vigil, a virtual gathering place for her loved ones to seek and lend comfort and prayers. People from all over the world post photos of Leslee every day, share thoughts and good memories, write messages directly to her – even if she isn’t yet able to read them.
The Facebook group has become a clearinghouse for information, providing updates from her hospital bedside, sometimes hour-by-hour. The group has also proven tremendously and pragmatically helpful to her parents and friends in Korea – in one case, something as simple as helping her parents find an adapter for their laptop in Daegu. It’s remarkable – a unified, mobilized throng of people all focused on a single goal: loving Leslee back to health.
For me, Leslee’s Facebook group has allowed me to express my sympathy to the friends and family who know her far better than I do. It’s allowed me to bear witness to an extraordinary force: an online community in the very best sense of the term. I now check for updates a few times throughout each day, always touching in right before I go to bed.
I do it for two reasons. The first is, of course, to see how Leslee’s faring. The second is because, when I take in the outpouring of love and support for her scrolling across my screen, I feel somehow less alone, less vulnerable and fragile about life and the world.
I’m grateful to the friends of Leslee who created the group in the first place, and to those who labor to bring us updates on the latest setback or small triumph. And I’m feeling extremely grateful – and even charitable - towards our ol’ pal Facebook which, damning multi-million dollar movies and waning street-cred aside, maybe isn’t such a bad thing after all.