I learned of the death of my friend and schoolmate Ellen Middlebrook Herron the way I increasingly learn of all such milestones on life's journey: through Facebook. The first notice I saw was posted by one of my oldest friends, Steve Miller; how he learned of Ellen's death, I do not know, but it wouldn't surprise me if he had found out through Facebook, too.
Ellen was about as far as you could get from the stereotype of the "typical Facebook user." Her passion in life was rare books and manuscripts; Oxford-trained, she was responsible for organizing and cataloging several of the most important collections of rare Bibles and Christian texts in the United States, discovering a number of one-of-a-kind books and manuscripts in the process. Her talent did not go unnoticed: In 2001, she was chosen as the curator for the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit on its five-year trip around the United States.
We lost touch after high school, reconnecting a few years ago on Facebook. Back problems and unexplainable migraines and vertigo had brought an early end to her promising career. Often unable to leave her parents' home, she found in Facebook a way to keep in touch with friends that she could not see.
Ellen was not able to make our 25-year high-school reunion (planned on Facebook) last August, and I wish that I had had the chance to see her in person once again. But it was physical distance, and her health, that prevented that, not Facebook. As skeptical as I am of the long-term benefits of Facebook, I am grateful today, as I mourn her loss and pray for the repose of her soul, that it gave me a little more time with Ellen.
Scott P. Richert is editor at large for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and Publisher for Our Sunday Visitor. He holds an M.A. in political theory from the Catholic University of America. He has been published in, among others, The Family in America, This World, and Humanitas. He is the Catholicism Expert for About.com.