whole against the sky

March 31, 2009

I recently learned of the growing trend to “twitter” (can you use that as a verb?) when a story about it’s popularity made it into the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (which is reflective of how attached I am to reading things I can hold; I learn about the internet’s developments from the newspaper). I’ve been contemplating the nature of online offerings like  twitter and facebook “status updates” ever since.


Yesterday when there was a twitter icon on my favorite postsecret website, I consented to check it out. There I found postsecret postcards that were available exclusively on twitter and other “insider information” to which  only I (and the other 51,999 postsecret twitter followers) had access.

But while scrolling through twitter’s details regarding the life of postsecret creator Frank Warren, it began to sound simplified. I got too much corrupting explanation surrounding the weekly secrets that I’ve always considered to be invaluably abstract. Anonymous artistic postcards displaying hidden secrets hold a lofty value for me while they’re found soaking in abstraction, and it seems that people are somewhat better that way too.

Some of our largest curiosities are motivated by the distances and unknowns that exist within the relationships between people. And perhaps communication websites like twitter are so popular (at least to some extent) because they create the facade of breaking down the distances between us. They can provide the assurance that others care about our constant changes of heart or thought even when no one is around, that perhaps we are more connected to people when a less undefined silence exists and a concise sentence that describes a fraction of a thought is constantly updated and shared between us.

Some of my favorite passages in literature deal with the unconquerable distance between people. Like Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities where one chapter begins:

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses it’s own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses it’s own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!

And a prescription to address the dilemna from Rilke:

Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.

whole against the sky

I love that image of seeing someone whole against the sky only when you can embrace the implications behind doing so: that a person’s mind will never create a genuine map to aid in our navigation, that words rarely sound like the thoughts they reflect, that eternal secrets exist between every pair of people which can never be shared.

It’s better that way. Mostly because that’s the only way it can be, but also because there’s a graceful movement of life in embracing the mystery which can’t be said.