Photographer, Tracy Genovese, and I were overcome with restlessness at the same time. Our pandemic agitation led to a collaboration between poet and visual artist. Because it is was almost Lent, the theme became “Wilderness Wandering.”
Without meeting in person, I sent her some poems and with studied meticulousness she paired them with her photographs. Strange, unexpected, seemingly serendipitous connections help us through our wildernesses. (The gallery is at 78 Castle Street and available for viewing by appointment — COVID protocols in place. Contact: PHOTOTRAY13@gmail.com).
Christians like to use the story of Jesus in the wilderness as a prototype for faithfulness, but we should note he got help from angels. Likewise, Moses and the escaped slaves wandering for forty years also had some major mojo from divine sources. Not to mention that the prophet Elijah got a big hug from above during his forty days in the wilderness. But I don’t think we can count on angels all the time. We have something else, something seen as both magical and demonic: the internet.
It is ironic for me to says so, but Facebook has an amazing silver lining even though it stinks. While a horrendous source of disinformation, gossip, and nastiness – its profit-mongering and social control-wielding owners deserving all the vitriol they receive – I use it. Authors must have an online platform these days.
Even if I wanted to quit FB, I would be hard pressed to give up the benefit of being connected to so many people across time and space, and from every stage of my life. Sure, it is not the same as in-person connection with a physically present friend, but there is an extended community out there that is a wilderness resource.
Can they perform miracles? No. Can they provide hugs? No. Can they look me in the eyes and offer solace? No. But that does not mean online friends are powerless, useless, noise either. Some of them are people we have a deep connection and sustained friendship with across time. They can bring the compassion and perspective of sheer longevity to bear when we are in the wilderness and need it. That is not nothing. Even people we do not know personally can bring depth and texture to an online community.
It is possible to have a vibrant online community, virtual though it may. I have one formed around a professional website. It is literally a global community — many of whom I know personally but others I only know digitally and who nonetheless engage in personal conversation around common concerns. I marvel when someone I haven’t seen in forty or fifty years reaches out to respond to something I have posted. Is it the same as being there? No, but it is a small drink in the desert, especially during this time when even those close by have to remain at a distance. Old friends, new friends, close and distant, there is a magic to virtual community when well stewarded.
The wilderness brought Tracy and I together with common cause, and it proved a valuable connection in a time of diaspora. Online friends and companions can share memories, hopes, compassion, ideas, and common cause. While we wait for angels to come help us, there are other companions in the wilderness.