Mrs. R. (as I’ll call her) posted on a Facebook Group I read called the Tokyo Mothers Group that she was just diagnosed with lymphoma and asked if anyone knew anything about it. In fact, it’s a little more complex than that: my friend Kacie, whose daughter is just six years old, was reading the board and mentioned me in a comment to make sure I’d see it – I don’t often read that board anymore since my kids are twelve and fifteen years old, and the group most often has playgroup and play date recommendations and breast feeding support on it. Feeling a bit of social media pressure, I responded vaguely to the post – at first. “I did the treatment and now I’m fine!” She then took that bull by the proverbial horns, first friending me on Facebook, then sending me a private message asking all kinds of questions about how I’m feeling now, how my treatment went, and where I took the treatment. She and her husband had only been in Tokyo for two years and she needed advice. She wanted to talk. I didn’t answer her fully right away; I was struggling a bit inside. I’ve never spoken with another lymphoma patient; I’ve shied away from that blunt of a reality check. I just told her over social media that I had returned to the U.S. for treatment and asked her for the name of the hospital where she was being treated. And then I decided to just drop the façade and go see her. My husband was supportive immediately; sometimes I get these ideas in my head and I can’t let go – he senses when that’s happening and doesn’t fuss at me. At the same time, I could tell he was concerned – for me, there’s a lot of emotion tied up in lymphoma. I did not want to re-live the experience. I often tried to pretend it never happened to me. On the other hand, there was something nagging at me – if I could ease her suffering just a little, tiny bit, I probably should. Judaism teaches that the mitzvah (literally translated as commandment – but often meaning good deed) of Bikur Cholim – Visiting the sick – is one of the most important and meaningful of all of the 613 mitzvot. There are rules regulating how often (as often as possible for short periods) and when (after three days of suffering) and the common Jewish wisdom is that a visit from a caring friend or relative alleviates one sixtieth of a person’s suffering, and for that reason, it’s an important thing to do for someone. I had never met Mrs. R. in my life, but when I walked into her hospital room, I couldn’t help but hug her. She’s a beautiful woman with rich, dark hair and a shiny, wide smile. She was unpretentious and open, hankering for a talk – hungry to be understood and understand what was happening. She kept thanking me for coming, as did her brother, who had flown in from London to be with the woman who was clearly, judging from his protective attitude, his little sister. The magnitude of her youth hit me slowly, like a seeing a glass fall off a table in slow motion. Her daughter is only two and a half. We swapped diagnosis stories and she asked me if I thought she should go back to India, where she is from, to take treatment. I struggled with answering her because her type of lymphoma is not the same as mine was, and I have no idea if medical treatment is better in Mumbai or Tokyo; I just know that being treated for a serious illness in one’s native language is a huge comfort. In the end, the details of the situation didn’t really matter anyway. I stayed with her only an hour that day, just connecting with her, reaching out to her, letting her know that she is not alone. I swallowed the bile of my own illness, so recently passed, and offered the olive branch of hope to her, which she grasped with both hands. Leaving her was hard. I wanted to stay, to hug her and tell her she’d be okay no matter what happened really. I had my own babies to get back to. Even when I returned the next day, it was for just a few minutes, to bring her my own book on hope and strength before returning to my regularly scheduled life. She says I helped her decide to return to India to be near her family, where she can be with her daughter all the time. Her husband is going with her, able to work from the Mubai office of his company instead of the Tokyo office, to which he had been transferred from India anyway. I don’t know precisely what I did or said, but she seemed at peace with the decision, with the process ahead of her. When we parted, it was with pressed hands and promises to see each other again, be it in Tokyo, in India or even someday in the U.S. I’m sure we will, too. It might not be so soon, but I will see Mrs. R. again somewhere, someday. What began with a social media posting became the physical fulfillment of a mitzvah, and will now return to the world of the virtual, as I’m sure we will be in touch over some type of technology or social media. She might think that I did something for her, and perhaps I did, but what she did for me, giving me the opportunity to fulfil a beloved mitzvah and come to terms with sharing my story both in person and over social media, with those similarly afflicted, was the real gift. Godspeed, Mrs. R. I am waiting to meet you again.
I grew up in a little town called Bethany in Connecticut. It’s so small that they’ve only had their own zip code for about fifteen years, and there’s a regional system for the middle and high schools. It was a great place to grow up – and it’s still a great place according to my college friend, Jack Nork, who lives there now with his family. I love reading Jack’s posts on Twitter because it astounds me that little Bethany has a robotics club at the elementary school. Or that all classrooms have computers. Modern! Bethany is modern!
At the regional high school, Amity, every year they have a show called POPS. It’s pretty much a variety show – akin to a cabaret. They had it when I was a student there, and the tradition continues. It’s an honor to be in the POPS concert, and it’s even more of an honor to host it.
Here’s where the social media part comes in. A few hours before the concert, my friend Jack, whose wife teaches at the high school, posted that he was excited to attend the concert. He used the hashtag #POPS. Apparently the concert was trending.
I replied on Twitter (where my handle is @TokyoWriter, btw) that I was jealous – I miss POPS. I remembered to use the hashtag.
Jack replied, using the hashtag, about POPS even having a following in Japan.
That’s where it got silly. Apparently, there was a running topic list behind the announcers of POPS – anytime the hashtag would be used, it would live-scroll. Throughout the concert. Every now and then, the announcers would read out the more interesting tweets.
Well, they read out my tweet, according to Jack! He tweeted me later telling me that I had been IN the POPS concert, technically. For the second time – since my best friend Betsy and I sang “My Guy” with a really cute little dance and matching outfits our senior year.
So there you have it – the power of social media. Someone in Japan watching a hashtag via a friend from college who now lives in her little hometown participates in a concert at a regional high school.
It’s a tiny little world.
On Twitter, I follow a few luxury travel “tweeple” – those involved in the industry, I mean. (Not that I take luxurious trips, but a girl can dream!) On Saturday I saw a Tweet from one woman who was Re-Tweeting a man in New York’s tweet. (For those of you who don’t know what I mean, on Twitter, the art of the Tweet is in the re-tweet – putting someone else’s status out there to elevate yours.) Twitter is like Facebook, but just status updates, all in 140 characters or less. It’s much more dialectic than Facebook, also – you can converse with others via various statuses. It’s expected, and it works well.
The Re-tweeted tweet said something like, “Ew, found dead bug when I unfolded the bath mat at the NYC Marriott Marquis.”
I checked a few profiles, and the original guy who sent the tweet out there into the “Twitterverse” has 6182 followers – that’s more than six thousand people who have access to what this guy is saying. I think I’m pretty cool at more than 400, but I am nothing in comparison.
But get this: the woman who re-tweeted his info has 16,859 followers. Holy Moly! Now there are sixteen thousand more people who know that the Mariott Marquis has an insect issue.
Are you getting the drift here? We don’t know how many more people besides that one re-tweeted the initial tweet. Maybe a bunch of the woman’s 16,000 followers re-re-tweeted it. We’ll never know the far reaches of the lore of the infestation.
After seeing that, who is going to go to the Marriott Marquis this weekend? I think the Sheraton a few blocks uptown will have a few extra guests until the potential hype wears off. It’s hype created by a small reality, but it’s pretty small nonetheless. I am not faulting the tweet, or the tweet-er. He was reporting the truth. What I’m doing is marveling over the potential power of one tweet.
This is the true use and intention of social media: power to the people. Now let’s all get out there and use our power for good.
Yesterday I received the first copies of my book in the mail. It was so exciting! Of course my first instinct these days is to use social media to share the news. Within minutes, I had a photo up on my facebook page as well as on Twitter. Well, another author I know here in Japan, Hugh Ashton, immediately responded and offered congratulations. He also commented to me and to another author about how it’s exciting for me as a first timer, but maybe not to the other guy since he’s published so many books. Well, this second author tweeted that every time is special, and then said hi to me, too. I tweeted thanks, and hi back. Within about a minute, he had re-tweeted my post about the book arriving – and tweeted the link to pre-ordering it on Amazon.jp. Instantly I got “congratulations” tweets from ten people, and several of them also re-tweeted the author’s post about my book.
Think about it this way, if the author, Christopher Belton, has 12,000 + followers, then there is a potential for 12,000 + people to see his tweet and buy my book. Maybe five of those people re-tweeted Mr. Belton’s tweet about the book to their 1000 + followers. That is a lot of tweeting! And I didn’t even mention the thousands of followers that Mr. Ashton, the initial tweeter, has. It’s like a fungus – it keeps growing and growing and growing…
I have no idea if any of this will translate into book sales. But right now it doesn’t matter. I’m in awe of the power of social media and the way word spreads like wildfire. Sincere thanks to Mr. Belton and of course, as always, to Mr. Ashton. As a first time author, I’m just getting my feet wet and they are excellent models for immersion.