Sometimes, after posting one of my Sunday blogs, I might get a message from Simon saying something like, “I figured you’d be writing about this today so I swung by to have a read.” Simon would certainly have figured what I would be writing about late into last night and this morning but, alas, he won’t be swinging by to see it.
When a person dies, I like to say just like that, ‘they died’. But for Simon, I think ‘passed on’ is actually a better fit. Simon has died but he has also very much passed on.
He has passed on to a special place in the many hearts where he will be alive forever.
He has passed on into legend.
I was lucky enough to meet Simon a couple of times but our friendship was mostly enacted through Twitter and, more recently, over on Facebook too. A lot of the interaction was public but there was also the considerable underbelly of messaging where more personal truths were often exchanged.
At first, we were all part of a social media cohort. A loose community of folk who tended to drift in and out of each other’s consciousness. At the centre of this amorphous collective, there were a bunch of people who just seemed to get along really well. I imagine there were a thousand such collectives – maybe a million – across the entire social media universe. But ours felt a bit special… perhaps they all did. This fellowship gently disbanded over time, as fellowships tend to do, but a kernel of people never quite managed to let each other go. We might not have spoken every day or even every week but we remained strangely ‘aware’ of each other. Our little successes raising us all up a little, our trials pricking our collective hearts.
Simon was a firm part of that collective but, man, he was so much more too. He was a superb communicator, always sharp and witty, kind yet edgy all at once. As was the case with many of us then, his life played out a little week by week on Twitter. I will always remember his Saturdays in particular, going to the match, retiring with his great friend Glen to the pub for a couple of pints, taking in the ‘turn’ then home to the cats for a late pizza.
We always got on really well, Simon and me. I like to think it was empathy that played a part in loosely binding us together. We both seemed to have a lot of empathy for stuff. We understood how that could be both a blessing and a curse.
So that was it. Simon Ricketts. To me, a valued member of a loose collective. A free-flowing social media friendship, slowly formed. That was enough, it was plenty.
But then he went and did something that amazed me. He came to see me. He hired a car and he came to Ireland and he drove over here to the west coast to my town. To come to see me.
We had us a day. I wrote about it here. We drove around and I showed him stuff, we walked a little and sat and ate seafood and drank a pint or two at the end of the day after the driving was done. He said he had wanted to meet me and I sure as hell wanted to meet him.
I think his coming all this way to see me illustrates an important aspect of who Simon was. I think it can serve as a microcosm of his overall wonderfulness. Maybe he just wanted to see me, like he said. Maybe that was the beginning and the end of it. But I don’t think so. I think he sensed that perhaps I needed to see someone, someone real from out of all the internet relationships I have come to lean quite heavily on. I was so remote, you see, that sometimes my absence from the occasional meetups would make me feel isolated and not really belonging. By coming all this way, to see me, he did me a huge service. It was a boost that still boosts me to this very day, many years along. He made me feel a bit important.
And, yes, there it is. The microcosm. Isn’t that what Simon did so well? He made his friends feel a bit important. Regardless of whether they were online sketches of people or real flesh and blood folk. He made us feel important. And it wasn’t any sleight of hand or three card trick he was pulling when he did it. No. We felt important to him because we were important to him. He cared. He really bloody cared and we really bloody mattered to him.
I don’t want to paint him as an angel and I don’t want to paint him as a saint. That was perhaps the greatest part of it, the fact that he wasn’t an angel and he wasn’t a saint. He was a man. In person, he was earthy and mischievous and sometimes downright naughty. In our times together he said things that I would never repeat but which made me slap my thigh at the wonderful ‘incorrectness’ of them. I’ll sum it up as we do in these parts and I really mean this too… Simon was Great Crack. And in case you feel like correcting me and telling me that word I’m searching for is actually ‘Craic’ then, sorry, ‘Craic’ is for the tourists; in these here parts, we call it Crack.
Gibbzer was a great friend too and when those two found each other, it was such a delight to see. It’s not for me to type here how I know he felt about her but I know it and I’m positive she knows it too. They had a marvellous adventure in their too-brief time together and they travelled the hard road together too. They were each other’s prize.
Simon is gone today and I can only begin to guess how I will miss knowing he is out there. Sometimes he would message me, offering some private counterpoint to whatever was currently happening in the public online domain. I wish he would do that now, to tell me that what I’m seeing is not really true, but I know that is not to be. People who don’t know about online stuff think that it’s not really real but it is. It is all too real.
I think Simon has left me some important lessons about living. About owning the good things and also the bad things that get thrown at you. He’s taught me a little about dying too, I reckon, that you can bring people along with you quite a long way, until you can bring them no further.
The final lesson, though, is about social media and maybe that is as it should be.
All the Twitters and Facebooks and such are damaged goods now. They are not what they were and they never will be again. But we can still use them. Simon showed me how his social media became his bionic arm. Even as his body failed him, he utilised his social media so that he remained strong and sharp and witty and loving right up to the final moments of his life.
He used it to finish strong.
And he did, he finished strong.
He never shirked from his illness and the trials and tribulations that it brought along with it. He told it like it was. But he played the game, the game never played him. He never lost his empathy, his strength, his humour, not in this public arena, not for a moment.
And we will remember him this way. We will remember him as a beacon for what was best in all the myriad of online relationships that we weave. A force for warmth and truth in the world. A good man to know.
I will also be able to remember the bloke who waited outside the library for me though I was a little late and who smiled at me when I crossed the road to greet him.
And how I smiled back.