Events of the last few days have left me reflecting on the true meaning of community.
On Monday Kate Sutton – known to many by her blog handle WitWitWoo – died unexpectedly following a stroke.
Now I’m not writing this post because I claim to have had a close friendship with Kate. I didn’t. From memory, we only ever had one brief conversation. However, I do know from people who knew her far better than me that she was a true friend, a source of humour and warmth, the sort of person others spontaneously refer to as ‘lovely’.
When the news of Kate’s untimely passing became public on Tuesday – news travels particularly quickly in blogging circles – people started sharing photos and anecdotes about her. The hashtag #BeMoreWitWitWoo trended on Twitter.
Bloggers have, at times, been accused of jumping on to bandwagons to serve their own purposes. Sometimes the finger-pointing has been justified. Not this time. What I saw was a genuine outpouring of emotion: disbelief, denial, sadness, anger, grief.
(And yes, I’m aware that writing this post also lays me open to accusations of bandwagon-jumping. You’ll just have to take my word for it that I’m writing this more to process my thoughts than for page views.)
In fact, I would say that what I have seen – and forgive me for romanticising the point here – shows what community is really about.
Now, like any other ‘community’, bloggers can be shallow. I’ll do something for you, you do something for me. A veneer of friendship paves the road to paying opportunities. However, this is community viewed in its most reductive form.
You don’t condemn a community on surface impressions any more than you judge the proverbial book by its cover. You don’t see what a community is really like until you plunge it into its darkest moments. London during the Blitz. People opening their doors to strangers in the wake of a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. England after a World Cup exit.
And that’s what I’ve seen over the past few days.
There are times when showing support to fellow bloggers is just about reading, liking, sharing and commenting on posts. And then there are, in the words of Thomas Paine, “the times that try men’s souls”.
The true measure of a community is found in how we respond to adversity, in a time of need. It’s about how we stand together when one of us stumbles or falls.
And it’s when we fail that test of community that I despair about the way our world is going. You only have to look at the deep rifts in UK society caused by Brexit to see how toxic a lack of community can be.
Not here, though.
Everywhere I look there are bloggers rallying around. And it’s more than just the platitudes, photos and bon mots. Ben, the older of Kate’s two sons, set up a GoFundMe Page to raise funds for her funeral, with a goal of £3,000. It has become a rallying point for the blogging community, whose contributions have played a significant part in pushing the total past £10,000 in a little over two days.
Talk is cheap. Funerals are not. An aggregation of small donations from family, friends and fellow bloggers won’t replace a lost mother, of course, but it is at least something.
There are also a variety of plans afoot to ensure Kate is commemorated in the blogging world. Gone but not forgotten. Yes, it’s a trite phrase but, again, it’s an act of community that represents something.
Death makes us think, doesn’t it?
I have written on a number of occasions about how much the death of my old university friend Sam, aged just 38, affected me. It was the ninth anniversary of his passing just last week. I remember how his memorial service brought together a number of disparate communities – family, friends, school, university – as one. It was as much a celebration of a life lived as the mourning of one cut short.
And that’s how I choose to reflect on Kate’s death. I can bask in the warmth of her wit and the fond remembrances of her friends. Through her writing, her actions, her personality, she created a community around her that she would be proud of.
Of course, no words can soothe away the sense of loss Kate’s sons must be feeling at the moment. No number of heartfelt tweets or posts can take away the pain. But ultimately what we leave behind in death are memories and the people whose lives we touched. Kate’s was a life well lived. Rest in peace.