Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hands Around the World

Toward the Olympic Range
Gillian Cornwall c. 2011

It really works. I probably shouldn't be surprised. I have made connections all over the world through new media, but this past week it has really hit home. Blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, whatever your sharing tool of choice, it works. It brings hands together around the world. 

I do realize that the paragraph above is not ground-breaking information, but sometimes it's hard to know if the content is received at all or received well. It is easy to produce content (harder to produce good content) but difficult to know how widely and positively it is being received, understood and appreciated. Yes, we have analytics to measure reach and make some fact-based assessment of readership but that doesn't always give us the kind of feedback we desire. 

There is nothing that boosts a writer's spirit more than contact with one's readers, through comment, email or direct message. Even if that contact is a challenge, it's great to know that you are engaging with people - some who you know in real life and some you are meeting in cyber-space for the first time. 

Back on November 10, 2013 - just before Remembrance Day - I published a post entitled, Love and Molecules - Lest We Forget. It is the synopsis of the story of my mother's participation in the Second World War and her love of a pilot by the name of Richard N. Foster.

I won't tell the story again here. I'll let you have a look at that in your own time through the link in the previous paragraph. I had researched quite heavily into my mum's service at RAF Base Biggin Hill and into Richard's service in the British Air Force. It was difficult to find fact-based information and I am ever so grateful to all the people in the UK and France who dedicate all of their time outside of their day jobs to ensure those who served are remembered for their sacrifice. It is those people with whom I initially had contact for this project - sometimes they found me and sometimes I found them - reinforcing the impact of new media and the world as it exists with internet connectivity. 

The next aspect of engagement with this project was the response to that post back in 2013. I was astounded by the number of hits it received and by the heartfelt feedback. I had always hoped that I had the facts right and was doing justice to my mother's and Richard's past. 

Last week, the most phenomenal thing happened with respect to that post. Richard's nephew found it (and other sites to which I had added information) by Google searching "RN Foster" and he contacted me by email! I had no idea there were any living relatives to find. My searches in this regard had not come to fruition. Imagine my surprise, after my initial reaction thinking it was likely all spam and almost ignoring the emails and comments. It took a call from Richard's niece, before I could accept - they are real! They are descendants of one of Richard's siblings! I won't release their names as I haven't their permission but, suffice to say, there are 3 family members in total who contacted me in the past week. As if that weren't enough, Richard's niece lives a 30 minute drive from me and we had lunch together this past week and shared photos and stories! Uncanny! She knew my mother as well ("I called her Auntie Eunice"). She has Richard's smile.

All of this has brought me closer to Richard's and my mother's lives and verified everything I thought to be true about their relationship. Had he lived, everyone expected he and my mother would have married and I either wouldn't be here or I would be here in a different embodiment of myself! I wonder how different their lives would have been. It's mind-boggling to think of the possibilities and to think of how many lives, full of promise, were taken so early as a result of that war. We must never forget. 

Had I not written that piece, with the goal of honouring my mother, Richard, their service, and her lifelong commitment to her love for him - despite his physical absence and despite her marriage to my father which resulted in four children before their divorce - I never would have had this opportunity to continue this story and develop this bond with Richard's family. I feel somewhat inarticulate in describing it here; I am still absorbing the uniqueness of this opportunity. 

Reach out. Use your social media accounts to share your stories. Reach out, because you never know who has their ear to the ground, half way around the world, listening for your heartbeat across the sea, across time. You may never know the impact that acknowledging a tweet or commenting on something shared means to someone. Use these tools for good. Use these tools to reach out around the world in loving thought and action. 

I dedicate this post to Richard's family - who I feel are, in some way, my newly found family. Thank you for your interest and persistence and for helping me to remember why I do this and why I believe in the power of the internet and new media to heal the wounds to our world. 

With love to each of you.

-Gillian Cornwall, c. February 22, 2015.

Eunice Jay
Richard Foster

Flying Officer, Richard N Foster
Rest in Peace, Guidel Communal Cemetery
Morbihan, France
Picture taken by: Alain Octavie


Holistic Sailor said...

I so agree Gillian. My 11-year old nephew stumbled across a blog which led me on a path to uncovering how my grandfather died in WW II and an in-person meeting with one of his fellow fighter pilots, now 91 years old! Yes - use this medium for good!

Gillian said...

Thank you for this Tara. I appreciate how much work you have put into creating a beautiful memorial to your grandfather. It is through these wonderful tools of connectivity we can ensure they will always be remembered for their courage and sacrifice.

Anonymous said...

Oh I love this touching story! Thank you for reminding me of the continuing ripple effect of one life affecting another. .again and again. Unknown to us is the affect we will have in future lives.
Love the beautiful picture of your Mother.

Gillian said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you very much for your comment - as I said in the piece, it means the world to have people let me know their thoughts on the work. I do it because I love it, but it is so nice to know if it has been useful or meaningful to someone. My mother was a real twinkling soul and a beautiful woman. Thank you again for your heartfelt comments.