This is not at all the post that I was planning on writing yesterday.
It was Monday, a holiday, the start of the week– I was going to knock out something light, fun and relatively inconsequential. (You know, like most days around here–there, I said it so you don’t have to!) But on Sunday, as I was surfing around, checking out Twitter and Facebook like the social media maven I am, I started seeing a flood of Tweets that caught my attention. Apparently someone named Trey Pennington, described by people in the online community as an overwhelmingly popular social media guru/consultant/personality (and self-described on his Twitter page as a “marketing pro, speaker, author, dreamer”) committed suicide by shooting himself in the parking lot of his church–and the posts from friends and strangers reacting to the news were so full of shock and pain that they jumped off the page.
I’m not exactly sure why this particular tragedy resonated so deeply that I literally spent the rest of the evening Googling and reading everything I could find out about the man. He was the father of six children, a recent grandfather, a Christian, a successful business man and by all accounts a truly endearing, kind, caring human being. I learned that he was in the middle of a devastating divorce from his wife of 28 years, and that he has suffered from a crippling clinical depression and apparently attempted suicide earlier in the summer– though it appeared that he had gotten the appropriate help he needed and was doing much better. People describe him as an encourager, someone who truly believed in the value of social media not only to promote business endeavors but to connect people IRL (in real life). The outpouring of grief from people whose lives have been touched by him is a testament to that belief. The very last thing he Tweeted, hours before he died, echoed those feelings:
So… this was a guy who had over 110,000 followers on Twitter and almost 5,000 ‘friends’ on Facebook. According to the many, many posts that have been written since Sunday he also had many people within arm’s (or telephone’s) reach who loved him, supported him, listened to him and tried their best to help him keep his balance despite the deadly chemical imbalance raging inside him caused by his depressive illness. But in the end, in the brief time it took to formulate a plan, get a gun and drive to his church, the desire to end his pain was stronger than his ability to keep fighting. Despair won.
I had never heard of Trey Pennington until yesterday. His interesting life and sad death don’t really personally affect me in any way. I have been blessedly spared the agony of losing a close friend or loved one to suicide, so his story doesn’t resonate with any deep personal pain in my past. So why haven’t I been able to shake this? I feel, pardon the expression, haunted by what happened to him and I’ve been reading every article and post I can get my hands on for the last two days.
Trey Pennington’s death has triggered a lot of discussion and debate online, and one main theme that has emerged is the question of what, if any, part did social media play in this tragedy? Some say none– some say that the very nature of social media creates a false sense of connection that is hollow, not real. And maybe that’s one of the reasons I have been so focused on following this story.
When I started Babybloomr I didn’t have a well-defined agenda (well, other than complete bloggy world domination, of course.) I had blogged for the Tennessean for two years, and when that was over it seemed the perfect time to launch my own site. I pictured it as being a continuation of what I had done for the newspaper, but with more freedom to write about a broader range of things that interested me, and not just focus on mommyblogging, which is what I had originally been hired to do. And that’s just how it played out– Babybloomr was (and is) a work in progress, that on any given day can be funny or serious, light or heavy, wordy or full of pictures… whatever I’m feeling. You guys, bless you, have not just come along for the ride but have jumped in and helped create and shape what happens here. You’ve also created this whole community/support system/coffee klatch thing that happens between all of you in the comment section that absolutely delights me! I know that there are many loving, supportive friendships that have developed over the years on this site, and I truly believe that they are as authentic as any other relationships in our lives. But obviously, it is much easier to put up a brave front and pretend that everything is fine when it’s not if your main communication with someone happens online, and you are not able to look each other in the eye or notice if something in their voice doesn’t sound quite right.
Is that what happened with Trey Pennington? I don’t know. Maybe everybody missed it and failed to see how desperate he really was, or maybe his mind was made up and no one could have done anything to stop him anyway. Maybe, as some people seem to be suggesting, his church failed him– one wonders at the specific circumstances under which he chose to end his life– or maybe they reached out and were rejected. There are obviously no easy answers, and to me? The only clear enemy here is that soul-sucking bastard, depression. Depression lied to Trey Pennington and told him that there was no hope of things ever getting better, that God had abandoned him and the people in his life would be better off without him. Depression blinded him and gutted him and ultimately, destroyed him.
There’s a quote attributed to Plato that says, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I guess what I’m trying to say in this rambling, all-over-the-place little missive is that I truly appreciate the kindness you have all shown to me and to each other here in our own tiny corner of the internet. And that I pray that Babybloomr.com will always be a place where it is OK to be who we are, in all of our flawed humanity, and to reach out and ask for help if we are drowning. We all need to know that our trembling hand will be met by the strong arm of real friendship– cyber or otherwise. We can be that for each other around here.
I love you guys.
“Here’s something you can do right now, right where you are, and you don’t even need a book to show you how: when that next person walks into your office, calls you on the phone, or sends you an email, stop to seriously ponder the question, “Why am I glad this person is on the planet?”
When you have the answer to that question, take it from your mind, put it into words, and give those words to that person.”
- Trey Pennington