Like many people, I have been engaged by Twitter -- it's a good way to keep in touch with busy friends and to connect with new people. The mundane updates and boredom-inspired reports on what people are having for lunch -- tuna sandwich, pickle, diet coke and apple for me -- fulfills some weird manifestation of our need to send out information about ourselves in order to feel real in the face of the post-modern ever-unstable self.
This past week I had a Twitter revelation. A few months ago my mother died. She was an amazing woman who among her many accomplishments and talents raised six sons, each of whom, for years and years, spoke to every other brother once every few days. This past week, my brothers, my father, and I have been trading emails about the words to be engraved on my Mom's headstone. We were all on a conference call the other night sharing memories, laughing and crying, trying to get just the right words to describe my Mom, words that would endure as long as the stone lasted. The least wordy of my brothers complained that with everything we all wanted to say the headstone was going to look ridiculous.
"We need to tweet the headstone!" I impulsively offered. We were all quiet.
To tweet my Mom's life was unnerving, humbling and actually quite necessary. Capturing her memory in 140 characters? No amount of words could adequately describe my Mom and yet we needed to tweet her life. My mom use to say, "Get to the point already," and to tweet her headstone, we needed to heed her advice.
I remember a philosophy class I took as an undergraduate. The requirement was to write a weekly response to a classic philosophical issue -- the mind-body problem, the problem of evil, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound -- in no more than 250 words. For some things words are inadequate. One mystic sage in the Talmud taught that the highest form of praise is silence -- clearly a profound truth on some level but not very helpful for our headstone challenge. We did discuss putting nothing on my mom's gravestone but her name -- but too weird, we decided.
Well, I am pleased to report that I think Twitter has been a great practice, in the spiritual use of this term. Because of our experience controlling our word count, there was a lightness to our wrestling with every character to capture the life of the most important character in our life. My mom's headstone has 99 characters.
Tweeting a headstone compels us to think about getting our sense of significance as human beings down to just a few characters. What an interesting exercise: How would we boil down the message of our own lives to just a few words? Obviously, there is a narcissistic quality to Twitter and yet at the same time, as it often is with powerful tools, Twitter invites us to think about the relationship between significance and triviality, between brevity and profundity. What would you write about yourself if you had to tweet your life to this point?
How would your TwitObit read? Find me on Twitter (@irwinkula) and share your TwitObit. It's good practice as the NYT charges by the word, anyhow.
Since my mother's death, I have woken up at sunrise to recite the Kaddish -- an ancient mourning meditation recited in a community of friends for 11 months. The other day I took a different route walking to synagogue and passed a blooming spring tree filled with birds. They were tweeting -- announcing the new day -- and I stopped to listen. Sometimes a Twitter can be sacred.