Here is Tyler, playing his violin. And here he is, smiling at someone off camera. And here is a picture he probably took of himself, holding his cell phone at arm's length, the way people do on Facebook. That he loved music and was an extremely gifted performer. That he went to orchestra rehearsal the day he died, rehearsal for a concert of which he would not be part -- I guess he had not quite gotten to the point of no return then. That he would reach it later in the day. These are some things that even people who didn't know him, know about him. Plus some other things that were his and his alone to share, and were none of our business until he was ready to share them.
There is his ashen father, standing behind the screen door of their house, an haggard older version of Tyler himself. And there is the family's quiet message to the world: "Tyler was a fine young man, and a distinguished musician. The family is heartbroken beyond words. They respectfully request that they be given time to grieve."
Someone opened a memorial page for Tyler on Facebook and more than 124,000 people have "liked" it, which is what you do on Facebook if you want to signal approval of something you see there. Someone else has opened one about the two other students whose cruel prank began the sorry chain of events leading to his suicide last week. Many of those who have posted comments there are young, and some of their comments about the pair are intemperate. So are a couple of posts by people old enough to know better.
It's too easy to press "send" nowadays. Dash something off in the heat of the moment, press a key and it's out there forever. You can never take it back. People you don't know may see it. Your boss may see it, or your next boss, or your fiancee's grandma. This may happen years from now, long after you've forgotten all about whatever it was that caused you to fire a string of epithets into the ether. It's so easy and so fast -- much easier and faster than stopping to consider what is likely to happen as a result of it. We always thought the world would be a gentler place if we could just all communicate better. Now I am not so sure -- we can communicate instantly in several ways, with more waiting in the wings, and all it seems to have gotten us is new ways in which to misunderstand and bully one another.
No, of course that's not all. There is much about it that's good. eLife is real life, too, and virtual community is community -- not the same kind as face-to-face, but not nothing, either. If you're reading this, you're part of a virtual community. All forms of human interaction carry the potential for evil. Cruelty can speak any language.
But so can love. Infinitely elastic and infinitely responsive to its surroundings, whatever they are, love can find its way through the darkest places hate can devise. It shows up uninvited and gets quickly and quietly to work, stirring in the honey of its presence teaspoon by teaspoon, patient and persistent. It cannot undo evil, but it sets up housekeeping right there on evil's front porch, and it refuses to be shooed away. In the end, evil is no match for the sweet stubbornness of love.
Everyone at the Geranium Farm sends deepest sympathy to the family of Tyler Clementi, with prayers that this tragic event will help us all remember always, always to choose kindness.
This weekend: The Falls Church parish retreat at Shrinemont in the Diocese of Virginia. Barbara Crafton is retreat leader.
Next Saturday, October 16th, St. Simon's Episcopal Church, Staten Island, NY., Forgiveness: What It Is and What It Isn't: A Quiet Day with Barbara Crafton. 9am-3pm. St Simon's is at 1055 Richmond Rd, Staten Island, NY 10304. Reservations required: call 718-987-5252. This will be Barbara's only New York Quiet Day this fall/winter.
October 17-19 "Sustainability: A Matter of Faith," at Kanuga Conference Center, Hendersonville, NC
One of Kanuga's premier events, this conference will explore the link between faith and environmental issues. Keynoter: The Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, president and founder of Interfaith Power and Light. As one of the first faith leaders to fully recognize global warming as a core moral issue, she has mobilized thousands of religious people to put their faith into action through energy stewardship. Chaplain: The Rev. Barbara Crafton, spiritual director and award-winning author, To register, visit http://www.kanuga.org/conferences or call 828-692-9136.
November 7-8, St. John's, ,West Hartford, CT. Barbara Crafton visits for a quiet day on Saturday, 8.30am-1pm and sermons on Sunday, 8 and 10.30am. Visit http://sjparish.net or call 860.523.5201
More events in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, California, Pennsylvania, upstate New York, Florida, and Tennessee are listed under "events" at www.geraniumfarm.org.