Sunday, June 11, 2017

Google Calendar Notifies Me of Friends' Birthdays. And of Their Deaths.

Some people lie about inconsequential things like who recorded what and who peed on whom. A couple years ago, my friend Parsnip crossed the line: on Facebook, he lied about his birthday.

On the day Facebook said was his birthday, Parsnip’s timeline was flooded with thoughtful posts like “Happy birthday dude!” and “HB.” Hundreds of posts just like that from a spectrum ranging from cousins to Facebook friends he couldn’t recall ever having met.

Birthdays are meaningful and I thought deserving of a one-on-one deep conversation instead of public recognition. So I texted him, “Happy birthday Parsnip!” The exclamation point mattered. I rarely used them in writing because I thought the writer should be able to show excitement through the storytelling and not through a cheap upside down “i”. But Parsnip, who lived on the same hall as I did in our first year of college at the University of Virginia, lived his life like an exclamation point. He deserved mine.

Parnship texted back. “It’s not my birthday. I’m pranking everyone on Facebook. This is hilarious! Thanks though. My real birthday is February 28.”

This was one of many incidents in my decade-long tempestuous relationship with Facebook. Good came from this one, though: I then added Parsnip’s actual birthday in my Google Calendar as an annual event. This way, every February 28 at midnight my phone would silently notify me of his special day, and when I would wake that morning I’d see “Bday: Parsnip” at the top of my phone’s notification screen. Of course, next I would text him “HB.”

In a life filled with terrible ideas, this was among my best. I used technology to enhance instead of dilute my relationship with Parsnip. The simplicity of Bday: Parsnip and the joy it gave me knowing I could participate in his special day each year led me to add many of my family members’ and friends’ birthdays as recurring events in Google Calendar. Some friends now have kids and I want to be in their lives, too, so I added their names and birth year as recurring events. For example: Bday: Baby Parsnip (2020).

But sometimes, good things bring sad things along for the ride. On September 25 that year, I woke excited to see whose birthday joy I could share. I unlocked my phone, swiped down, and then felt ill. I saw Bday: Lings. My passionate, positive, resilient, adventurous, alive, fiercely alive friend Rachel, who I called Lings, had passed away three months before. She was among the best and my favorite people I have met.

Angry that I couldn’t text Lings “HB!” (the exclamation point was a required punctuation mark when writing to Lings), I deleted that notification in Google Calendar. In haste, I even deleted all future reminders of her birthday. In their place, I created a new recurring notification for June 11. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about my new notification “Death: Lings.” It seemed morbid and sad. I decided to leave it and see how I would feel when it would pop up for the first time the next spring. And when it did a year ago today, I felt more joy than any Bday notification. Seeing the date of Lings’ death reminded me of her life.

Today, I again remember. In particular, one image of her pops into my head. It is not the last one I saw of her alive, the one on Facebook with her face puffed up from prednisone and Lings generally not looking well. That is not the image by which I want to remember Lings. Thankfully, I see Lings nine months before her death. Her face is lean, like it always was until the end. She is resting outdoors against a rock—not one we climbed together, but still. And, she is smiling because she is grateful for this one more chance to feel the sun’s and her friends’ warmth.

Right now, I am smiling because I get to read about my last adventure with Lings and actually see this image as opposed to merely visualizing it. I will smile every June 11 when I see Death: Lings.

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