Posted by keithly » Add Comment »
The following is a statement I read at the memorial service for my friend Joel, who took his own life in January.
I honestly can’t remember when I met Joel, though I know it was in one of Dr. Ray’s philosophy classes. I don’t even remember what I thought of him at first, which is strange because Joel was the sort of guy who makes an impression. The only excuse I can offer is that in higher level philosophy classes, to be eccentric is to be normal.
Over time I realized I ought to get to know him and Luke Baehr better, but it wasn’t until after I graduated and my college social circle evaporated that I was desperate enough to reach out. I was still in Pella and Joel of course was in Knoxville, so we met at Smokey Row and talked.
Joel, Keith, Luke
Joel encouraged me to attend a Bible study he was going to in Des Moines with Luke, and I went once that fall after graduation. It was pretty intense and overwhelming for me at the time, so it was a few months before I went back. At Joel’s insistence I did keep going to Thursday night dinners at the girls’ house on 29th Street, which ultimately led to me fully joining the group, and practically every good thing that’s happened to me since. During those first awkward months Joel encouraged me and reminded me of Woody Allen’s line that “80% of success is showing up.” He said he was praying for me, that he cared about me and enjoyed my presence. He was such a blessing in my life.
Despite this, I found Joel difficult to get to know and hard to understand. He told me more than once he felt like people didn’t want him around at social events, and that on such occasions he was playing a role, and just trying not to bring everyone down. Yet he was such an intelligent conversationalist and appeared to thrive around people. I considered him an extrovert.
Joel was impossible to categorize, and I think he mistook for antipathy what was merely discomfort and uncertainty in those who were meeting him for the first time.
At some point he told me he’d accepted that he was just a melancholic person, and I took this to mean he’d made some sort of peace with himself. This reminded me of another man who had applied that word to himself, Samuel Johnson. From then on I compared the two of them in mind, and I tried to interest Joel in him, sending him articles and quotations, especially Johnson’s advice for dealing with depression: “If you’re idle, don’t be alone; if you’re alone, don’t be idle.” I had hoped Johnson would show him a way he could successfully cope with his troubles, that he would see that despite everything he was still made in the image of God, “fearfully and wonderfully made” as the psalmist says.
Though Joel didn’t have Johnson’s genius, he didn’t share all of his afflictions either. I won’t bore you with all the points of comparison between the two, but it suffices to say that in spite of Johnson’s lofty literary achievements (he wrote the first English dictionary) he’s now remembered as a brilliant conversationalist who was ever charitable and encouraging to his friends, so much that more than one of them wrote biographies and memoirs of the man. I believe it will be the same for Joel, not because we will necessarily write biographies, but that the sympathy, generosity, and companionship he gave us will continue to bear fruit in our lives.
Posted by keithly » Add Comment »
Last week I began the process of extricating my identity from Facebook. Zuckerberg et al’s decision to forcibly open my profile information drove me to either accept their radical, self-serving values about privacy and identity or remove my information. As it becomes clear that Facebook looks at its users as a resource to be mined of personal information, high-profile technorati like Cory Doctorow and danah boyd are abandoning Facebook and writing excoriating blog posts. Only time will tell if the the hoi polloi will follow, but from the number of Google searches for “delete Facebook account” it appears “the chickens are restless.”
It turns out that removing my information doesn’t actually delete it from Facebook: no, they will keep it in their database until I completely delete my profile.Â I’ve quit all my groups and what used to be called “pages,” and will no longer post anything to my wall. I saved all the old messages I care about via good ol’ copy and paste; the more recent ones are sent to me as emails so I have them already.
I’m uncertain what to do about my wall posts and photos. Stretching back 5 years, they record a history (a selective one to be sure) but are nonetheless real glimpses into my life. Senior year of college and inside jokes posted back and forth between classes give way to friends moving away and leaving sparse notes on their new surroundings. Some people disappear while new faces keep popping up. I’ve tentatively decided to copy and paste the entire thing to a file on my computer. The photos are more likely to stay, though perhaps not all of them. Many record cross country or track meets, Christmas parties, and other gatherings that are part of a collective story, not just my own. To remove these photos would ignore the stakes so many others have in them.
Statute of Ramses II, Luxor Temple, Egypt
I feel sorry for Zuckerberg and his crew. Hooked on Facebook I may be, but their creation dominates their lives much more than it does mine. Likewise I pity Steve Jobs, a man who seems lost in his own virtual reality, defending his technological fiefdom from his citadel at One Infinite Loop, lashing out at random critics and gossip blogs in weird personal emails. I see the same basic forces at work in the Apple “openness” and Facebook “privacy” flaps: control (fundamentally, power) and wealth. What pro-business advocates like to call “growth” usually boils down to a pursuit of these two things. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness power and wealth. Is that really the American way? No, it’s the way we all tend to go, given the opportunity: what Christian theologians call “original sin.” It’s a hard doctrine to swallow, but it points us to deeper happiness when realize we’re not good enough to make it on our own– we need someone to save us. (Rumor has it Jesus is that someone.) Though the powers Facebook and other tech companies now wield are in many ways unprecedented, the fundamental motivations of humanity are the same as ever.
9 That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which it may be said,
“See, this is new”?
It has already been in ancient times before us.