16 November 2003
I've just finished reading a delightful book called
"Virtual Miracles," stories written and/or compiled by a woman named Karen Derrico.
I bought it because she included a chapter on Steve. I had communicated with her when she was talking about writing his story (which was ultimately begun by Steve's friend, painter and writer Alec Clayton and then adapted by Karen).
It's a book about the miracles that happen because of the Internet and some of the stories are amazing. They make you laugh, they bring a tear to your eye, and they sometimes cause your jaw to drop.
Some of the people represented in "Virtual Miracles" have gone on to publish their own books--like the guy who sold all his possessions on eBay and then set off on a tour to visit all of the people who bought his stuff. I remember seeing him interviewed on The Today Show.
There was the story of "The Paper Clip Project," about a teacher who wanted to demonstrate to his students, in a midwest town with no Jewish population, the enormity of the Holocaust. They began an attempt to collect 6 million paperclips. How the project mushroomed, the heartwrenching stories that emerged, and the ultimate end to the project was one of those jaw-dropping, tear-inducing stories for me.
There are stories of generous people who have found ways to donate money, goods, services, and even body parts to those in need, and stories of people's lives who have been saved by the Internet.
I loved the story of a guy who traveled around the world for two years and didn't spend a cent--just moved from house to house of people who had read his story on the Internet and invited him to come stay with them. What an interesting thing for a young man to do (though he never got the one invitation he wanted: to spend a night at The White House).
There is a marvelous story of a dog, found on the streets of Brooklyn, whose photo was found on the internet by a woman in Colorado, who decided to adopt him. It is the story of the generous chain of people who took turns driving the dog from point to point until he ended up in his new Colorado home.
A man in India set up an computer kiosk in one of the slums of India and gave the residents access to the Internet, without giving them any clue of what this "thing" was. In no time at all, the children had figured it out and were surfing the Internet, getting an education that they never would have had without computers. He calls them The Hole in the Wall Gang. The story of the project is simply amazing.
My big surprise was finding the story of Georgia Griffith, my former CompuServe boss, "The Queen of the Net," as the chapter following Steve's story. Georgia is blind and deaf and the Internet is her home. The book could not be complete without telling the miracle of her window on the world.
The stories go on and on and as I read I was reminded of the smaller internet miracles I have witnessed myself in the brief 10 years since I first tentatively stepped into cyberspace.
I think of the friendships I have made, which would never have been made without this computer under my fingers.
There is a group of Women from CompuServe's Women's Issues forum who have formed a marvelous friendship and support network--Mary (Seattle), Pat (Bubank), Tricia (originally Dallas), Ellen (Milwaukee), Judy (San Francisco), Diane (Austin), diane [sic] (England), Sian (Orkney), Cathy (Vermont), DanaRae (Florida) and others who pop in from time to time, as well as our token male, Bill (Portland).
These women started out writing notes to each other about women's issues, but in 1996 one of them was about to go through a painful divorce and two of us decided that we'd help get her mind off of her problems by inviting her to join us on a train ride to Colorado to visit a fourth member of the group. Out of that suggestion, and talking about it on line, came a gathering of some 13 women who came from as far east as England, as far north as Canada, as far south as Florida. We spent a wonderful weekend together, which was a very healing one for me because it happened to come just a month after David's death and I drew great strength from being with this group of friends I'd never met before.
The group enjoyed our first gathering so much that it has become an almost yearly event and has taken us to: Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; Washington DC; Austin, TX; Ashland, OR; and even to London and Orkney (Scotland). We call our gatherings "Netstock."
The group was there to help a new woman who had just joined when her son committed suicide. She was in Hawaii and could not afford to fly to Washington to make arrangements for transporting him to the islands for burial. Mary jumped in and took over suprvising things for this stranger and the son eventually got home to his family. Two years later, we were having an internet "reception" the day of her wedding in Hawaii. None of us could be there in person, but we gathered together in a giant on-line chat to toast the happy couple, who also logged on to accept our congratulations.
There is the other group of CompuServe friends, from the gay and lesbian forum--Olivia, Mike, Ron, Susan, Andy, Butch, and a few others (including Bill, who died of AIDS a couple of years ago), who have also spent a lot of time together socially, and many of whom have become some of my best friends. I got closer to Mike and Bill when Bill returned home from one of his hospitalizations. I moved to Houston to take care of him for a month, so Mike could go to work and not have to worry that something would happen to Bill while he was gone during the day. It was while I was there that Bill and I, comparing genealogy charts, discovered we were distant cousins.
When David died, Olivia took over all of the legal work surrounding his accident and hospitalization and has continued to be a good friend and major "presence" in my life.
One other member of the group, living on the other side of the country, credits me (at least partially) with keeping him sober during the first year of his recovery from alcoholism.
My friendship with Steve would never have happened without the Internet. It was his kindness, and the kindness of the people involved with the message group for his musical, The Last Session that made me want to see the show...which ended up with my offering to become Steve's publicist and ultimately counting him among my best friends. Miracles happen every day in that group (some of which are detailed in Derrico's book).
I never would have met Peggy for sure, nor would our friendship have had the chance to grow without e-mail, web cams, and instant messaging.
I've had the sad experience of participating in two "death watches" on line, as first Mike's partner Bill died of AIDS while Mike sent updates to all of us from his bedside. Later, The Last Session group joined together around the world and watched and supported each other as "Dickie" (Richard Remley) also lost his long battle with AIDS. Some of us were good friends of Dickie; some of us had only met him once or twice; some of us had never met him, but we all grieved together.
A year of exchanges between me and a man who had adopted a son was great fun. It started with giving him support for the adjustment problems he was experiencing, but it evolved into friendly chit chat. I loved his wit and enjoyed our wordplay. It wasn't until we'd been corresponding for more than a year that I finally discovered his true identity was science fiction author David Gerrold, the man who wrote "The Trouble with Tribbles," my very favorite Star Trek episode. David and I became good friends and ultimately, in his role as Universal Life minister, he presided at graveside services for Paul.
The outpouring of love and support we received after David's death, and after Paul's 3 years later was amazing. I must have a stack of over 100 e-mails, many of them from people I barely knew. I still occasionally get mail from people who have found out about the kids' deaths via the Internet.
The generosity of people I've met on the internet is a miracle. In this journal I once agonized over the plight of my friend Priscilla, a woman with cancer and AIDS, who seemed to be at the end of her life and who was facing Christmas with no money and her five grandchildren dumped on her when her daughter was jailed for failure to pay parking tickets. It had never been my intent to ask readers of this journal for money, but the outpouring of donations was incredible and ultimately I was able to buy gifts for all of the children, enough food for a proper Christmas dinner, and give Priscilla money to help her feed the kids until her daughter got out of jail.
(For those who have taken an interest in Priscilla's life, miraculously she is still alive, doing much better and even financially stable enough that she has been able to have her own car and do her own transport, so she doesn't need rides any more. I haven't seen her in more than a year, but I remember her telling me in the years when things were so bad for her that the caring she received from people she never met had given her the will to fight harder.)
I think of the smaller miracles--my 83 year old mother staying in touch with her in-laws in Holland via her WebTV. My 86 year old mother-in-law surfing the net for porn because she wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Watching the birth and the growth of a new panda at the San Diego zoo via "Panda cam"...and then driving to San Diego to see her in person on her first birthday. Having Jeri, in Boston, send me a musical piece she'd written as an MP3 file so I could use it in a slide show I was preparing. The miracles go on and on.
Dr. G's wife got involved in a project to help a family with three children, born with a genetic disorder which would kill the children by the age of 12. A bitter battle with their insurance company ensued and thanks to information posted on the internet and a media blitz, they were able to get help for the youngest child, who now has a chance for a normal life. Just today, I received a note from her talking about the financial toll this has taken on the family. She is asking for those who read the story to donate $1 to help the family. I am confident that another Internet miracle will take place here too.
The Internet itself is a miracle. That I can type words in California and have them appear as quickly as I type them in Perth, more than 9,000 miles away is a miracle. It has made the world so much smaller, has opened the path for opportunities for so many people. I'm sure that this experiment has succeeded beyond anybody's wildest dreams. The Internet is here to stay.
(But if anybody could figure out how to get rid of the relatives of African potentates who want to make me rich, and the forty billion people who have the magic solution to penis enlargement, I'd be a very happy camper. Now THAT would be a real miracle!!!)