Below is a post that was written by my husband, Chris. As I’ve noted before, I wish he would write more often, but he feels that this blog is mine and so he usually wants to stay in the background. Still, I managed to convince him to write something recently, and it struck me as a great post for this time of year, when I’m thinking a lot about Shawn.
I have a rudimentary, but serviceable understanding of how the internet works. Part of what that means in 2021, is recognizing that at any given time, there is a symphony of equations, code, algorithms, cookies, and probably lots of other stuff that I don’t fully understand, working in concert, conspiring to craft a very specific online experience, one that is tailor made just for me.
Knowing this, it shouldn’t have been as surprising as it initially felt that LinkedIn thought to include Marjorie’s late husband Shawn as the first name at the top of my list of “People You May Know”.
Which raises an interesting question. Do I know Shawn? The answer of course, in the literal sense, is no. Shawn and I met once, in passing, in his backyard as I was swinging by to pick up my niece and nephew from an after school play date. I remember that he was warm, and kind, and how excited Austin, Claire and Tommy were to see him home from work at an unexpectedly early hour.
But I don’t KNOW Shawn – not in the way the community who gathered around him almost four years ago as he passed away did.
Not in the way that his group of close friends who raised their kids together, going to cabins, drinking beers over campfires in the Shenandoahs did. Friends who invited each others’ families to enjoy summer baseball tickets, or music on the national mall.
I don’t know Shawn the way that the colleagues who spent thousands of work hours, co-authored papers and briefs, and advised policy makers with him did.
And I most certainly don’t know Shawn in the way that his family did. As the middle of three very close siblings, it’s especially difficult for me to imagine what it must have felt like for his two sisters to lose their brother.
It’s a weird thing to, on the one hand, not really know someone, but on the other be intimately familiar with some parts of them, and the person they were. Sometimes I realize that I have no idea about many of the most inane, but basic details of Shawn – what food he liked, how tall he was, or what teams he followed (if any). And yet, I know where he stashed his cigarettes in an old tool box in the front left corner of the garage, in the compartment just above an extra wedding ring. I can tell how much, like me, he cared about and connected with music, from the selection of guitars he left behind, and that I’ve now hung with care on the wall until the kids are old enough to play them. His love for space, superheroes and science fiction is evident not only in the collection of framed first editions in a box downstairs, but also the boys’ Star Wars bedspreads, and Austin’s current obsession with the Keeper of the Lost Cities series.
And of course the most shining reflection of the life Shawn lived remains in the smiles, inquisitive minds, propensity for silliness, and kindness of the three children who call him, and now sometimes me, “Dad”.
So I’m not sure if that means that the LinkedIn algorithms have me figured out or not. For once, maybe it’s more comforting to believe that they do.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.