The next person who tells me that Facebook is a waste of time is going to learn about Ron Wade, may he rest in peace.
I’ve been a Facebook user for more than eight years. I have heard, over those years, that Facebook “is the devil,” to paraphrase Bobby Boucher’s Mama in “The Waterboy.” It chews up valuable time. It connects us virtually but not personally. It’s frivolous. It’s a productivity killer at work (this one might be true). It’s a poor substitute for human contact (probably also true).
But let me tell you what Facebook is. It’s a great way to stay in touch until you take the time to make that human-to-human connection.
My wife, Melody Gilbert, and I made just such an effort a couple of weeks ago when we moved from Chicago to Minnesota – in the dead of winter. Instead of making the trek straight to the Twin Cities, we decided to do a loop – a large loop.
We visited Florida first. And tried to touch base with as many friends and longtime “virtual friends” as we could.
We had lunch with a former colleague, who I had last seen maybe 15 years earlier. We spent a night with a long-ago friend and former business partner of my wife’s. We got together last year, thanks in large part to the miracle of social media. We remain good friends.
We visited with a former colleague of Melody’s, met with a longtime friend and bookclub pal, and stayed a second night in the home of another couple we knew briefly more than 25 years ago. All of that happened thanks to Facebook.
On our way back to Minnesota, we traveled through New Orleans and made a stop in Memphis. While there (and after a visit to the stunning National Civil Rights Museum), we had drinks and dinner with a guy I had met once, maybe 15 years earlier. He visited Minneapolis, where we lived and worked at the time, to interview for a job at the my newspaper (the Minneapolis Star Tribune). Though he didn’t get the job, we connected – and through the joys of the internet – remained connected and eventually became “Facebook friends.” In only our second face-to-face meeting, we shared an evening, a few laughs, and the knowledge that we’d see each other again.
Which brings me to Ron Wade and our stop in Saint Louis. Ron was a former colleague, but I hadn’t seen him since he left Minneapolis (I think sometime in the late 1990s). He went to Philadelphia, and then Saint Louis, where he stuck, a longtime and passionate Cubs fan trapped in enemy territory.
In spite of our brief work history, I knew Ron well enough to connect via social media when that became a thing. He was always a warm and smart and generous soul at work and he remained that on social media. He liked, commented on, or shared pretty much everything we posted. The people who follow Ron on social media probably know us as well as our family members do. I was excited to swing through Saint Louis and catch up with Ron – in person. On Saturday, Jan. 13, we arrived – in spite of a freakish ice storm that seemed to scare most Saint Louis drivers off of the area roadways.
Ron invited us to come to the newspaper for lunch. He was afraid most of the restaurants in town would be shut down by the storm. When we pulled up, Ron situated us in a Post-Dispatch parking lot and ferried us into the newspaper’s empty cafeteria. Before arriving, he had picked up a rack of succulent ribs, a slab of brisket, some cornbread and other goodies from his favorite rib joint. We settled in, gobbled up the food and shared a couple of hours together.
It had been years and years since we had connected, but because of Facebook, we didn’t have to spend much time on small talk. We talked about his passion for music. We shared with him our reaction to the powerful Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. We discussed our move back to the Twin Cities, home for us (and for Ron, too, in many ways). And gave him a big hug before we had to leave so Ron could get back to work.
We headed off for another Facebook-generated visit to my former boss, the man who brought us to Minnesota in 1991. On the way, Melody said to me: “Ron doesn’t look well.”
I said: “I know, he looked a little beaten down. But he said it was just a cold.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I think it’s something else.”
The next day, we set off for the Twin Cities but Ron was never far from our thoughts.
This morning we got word that Ron had passed away. He was sick. Very sick. And there was no lingering. He’s gone. In a matter of minutes, an outpouring of love lit up the Facebook realm of anyone who knew and loved Ron (if you knew him, you loved him). He will not be forgotten.
So the next time someone tells me how frivolous Facebook is, I’m going to tell them about the lovely afternoon we spent with Ron Wade.