The Kindness of Strangers

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Modern life is strange. Not just the nonsense (you know what I’m talking about) – that’s just nonsense and I say pish to it. No, the strangeness I’m talking about has to do with the weird alchemy of social media, every last appalling, magnificent, ghastly and splendid bit of it.

It’s on social media that you can get a glimpse of the worst of people, should you care to do so. I generally don’t (although it is of course almost impossible to avoid it completely), so I try to seek out the good, the uplifting, the kind.

Yesterday we lost the best, the upliftingest, the kindest. His name was Simon N Ricketts, and in the words of his partner Andrea, he was ‘stubborn, funny, brave, kind and loving.’

I’m taking her word for it. I never met Simon ‘in real life’ – the extent to which ‘real life’ is in any way real nowadays is subject to intense scrutiny and debate, hence the inverted commas – but I was fortunate to follow him on Twitter, even more fortunate that he chose to follow me, and will remember our occasional exchanges with great fondness. When he told me, a few months ago – he was back home after what I can only assume was a mind-alteringly gruelling period in hospital – that my book was next in his reading pile, it felt (absurd, childish, egotistical, vain as it is) like the best kind of validation, a proper seal of approval. And now his death, expected though it was, leaves what feels like a disproportionately large hole in my online life.

Ridiculous, really. But at the same time not ridiculous at all.

If you knew him on Twitter, as many people did, there’s no need for me to tell you about his kindness, generosity and patience; nor of his infallible ability to tweet the best cat video, the funniest blooper, the most interesting link, the most touching-without-being-awkwardly-shmaltzy-and-over-sentimental video.

Here’s one.

Simon not only had the unerring ability to provide ‘quality content’, he was also exemplary in his dealings with other people – by the simple expedient of being fundamentally warm, generous and kind.

Kind. That’s the word that’s cropped up most in the tributes I’ve read. Simon was kind. I don’t remember a cross word or an online spat or anything approaching the confrontational or judgemental attitude so all-pervasive on that site. Of all the excellent people I’ve met there, he was the one who ‘got’ it the best, the one whose presence was missed, the one whose return after a silence was greeted with relief and happiness. ‘Simon’s still here – so that’s all good then.’

And he was a terrific writer, charting his illness with honesty and humour – in the most recent post he wrote, entirely without self-pity, about his impending departure. Do read it.

And do also look at this beautiful tribute from Ken Armstrong, who has managed to find the words (as is his way) to express what I’m fumbling towards in these paragraphs.

If it’s ridiculous that I feel bereft by the death of someone I didn’t meet, then it’s equally ridiculous that someone so palpably kind and decent should be taken from us so young. And if I’m feeling bereft, I can only dimly imagine the loss those close to him must be feeling.

Rest in peace, Simon. Thanks for everything.

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