Facebook, as we all know is a Rabbit Hole. For good or ill it takes us in, drags us actually, and like a drug it anesthetizes us from the real world. It hooks directly into our brains and for the time we’re ‘on it’ it consumes our thoughts.
I don’t say this disparagingly. I love the fu&*ing thing. No doubt there is a destructive element though, in being glued to something that in essence, isn’t real at all, something that’s only a projection of ones and zeros and hard white light. But then, isn’t it the same with an old fashioned book?
If that book is well written it consumes us in the very same way, hypnotizes us into believing that we’re really there, running for our lives, or falling in love, or as in the deftly written book Iron Tracks, by Aharon Appelfeld, which I just read for the third time last night; breathlessly plotting the murder of the Nazi who killed our parents.
So it was that I had fallen down the Facebook Rabbit Hole yesterday. Even though it all took place in a virtual environment my journey had a very human, very emotional outcome; I started remembering a man named Jim Schmidt, who as it turns out, died just over two years ago.
When I say ‘remembering’ Jim, it’s not like I’d forgotten him, not for a day. But seeing his face, seeing him with his kids, reading what people were saying about him at his memorial, reading the things he’d said and done – both the clever and the supremely profound – made me feel again, in the pit of my stomach, just what a loss his departure from the world still means to me.
Perhaps you know a person like Jim, a man or woman who comes unexpectedly into your life and without employing any fantastical means, simply by their very presence, are able to open you up to parts of yourself, good and useful parts of yourself, that had lain dormant through neglect or fear, for as long as you can recall.
Jim was an ad guy and more, self-effacing to the extreme, whip smart, and possessed of a sharp (some might even say deadly wit) that cut straight through the bullshit. Here are a few of my favorite Jim-isms:
On whether his dad attended his bachelor party:
“I don’t want my dad anywhere near a long rubber dildo.”
“I believe historians will one day view Friends as the most evil show of all times.”
On a client’s literal interpretation of an ad:
“He’s the kind of guy who sees flames painted on a dragster and thinks the car’s on fire.”
On being asked what is making him so grumpy lately:
“Do you want the reasons chronologically or alphabetically?”
On the sex life of a colleague:
“I don’t know, once you’ve been tied up with a banana stuck up your ass, it would be hard to go back to normal sex.”
Jim did me the kindness of simply being interested, of wanting to know more about the things I thought and felt. He was a new friend, not someone I’d known very long, and perhaps that’s part of the reason we both hit it off so well. There wasn’t some enormous past weighing us down, or making the stories we each told feel old and tired. Jim brought vitality into my life.
At the time I met him I’d been doing a twelve-year shift as a composer for television shows. Not to disparage the work, it was a good job, but spending the better part of a decade and more, alone in my studio for the most part, sitting in a lumbar support chair adding bits of music to network television shows, left me feeling like I had become someone my teenage-self might not have been very proud of.
Jim thought otherwise. He listened to my ideas and blew gently on them as if starting a blaze. He nurtured my dreams and made me feel that they were possible. By doing so, he gave me a hint as to what my purpose in life might be: To take my skills and to use them to build up the dreams and aspirations of those around me. Without a trace of didacticism, Jim taught me what it meant to be a leader. For that alone he will remain strong in my heart and mind for as long as I live. That it seems, is the very least I can do for him.
Just over two years ago he and I were set to have lunch at the sole kosher restaurant in downtown Chicago. He called to apologize, he had a doctor’s appointment, he wasn’t feeling well. Three months later he died. Death, when it comes for those we love always shocks the system. When it comes suddenly and for people who we deem ‘too young,’ it shocks even more.
In Judaism we have a method of keeping alive the spirit of our loved ones, a ritualized, systemized means of saying: ‘We will not forget you, ever.” Once a year, on the anniversary of their burial, we light a candle and we say a prayer called the Kaddish. Some have complained that the prayer itself says nothing of the deceased, that the very personhood of the dead is somehow erased, subsumed within the words themselves.
May the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, be blessed and lauded and beautified
and exalted and raised up and glorified and elevated and praised
Higher than any blessing and song, praise and consolation that we could say in the world
The prayer speaks only of God; the greatest mystery. Life, its pain and its wonder, is to me, what is revealed in this prayer. The person we knew and loved, the person whose love was itself, a mystery, has now become part of that mystery.
And just as Jim helped to reveal strengths and powers that were buried within me, so I commit, after going down the Facebook Rabbit Hole and re-discovering Jim, to do the same for others, each and every day.