Having recently expressed my concern about the negative impact of social media on us as individuals and on our society, I feel moved to show one of the positives that has affected me profoundly.
Probably most non-Twitter users—if they think of Twitter at all—see it as the dreadful megaphone that amplifies Donald Trump’s worst pronouncements. And that’s true.
But I don’t follow Donald Trump, so I’m spared all that. I haven’t been on Twitter for long, and I don’t follow many people or have many followers of my own. But I have noticed that Twitter provides a supportive environment when people report on their illnesses, the death of a loved one, or the rotten day they’re having. They are then comforted by complete strangers who send them kind remarks.
If “the kindness of strangers” is not your thing, I understand. It may seem empty and insincere to some. But in a polarized country living through a pandemic, a comforting tweet seems to mean a whole lot to a great many people.
I find it impossible to read one of these appeals and move on without simply writing a few words of commiseration. Often, the individual will receive thousands of these little tweets—and respond to each of them.
One person captured my heart with a tweet. His openness in describing his situation led me to follow him assiduously and become emotionally invested in his family and their plight.
When I joined Twitter three months ago, Andrew Kaczyński, a CNN political reporter, described his daughter Francesca, who had been diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive brain tumor. I subsequently learned that the cancer, atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor (ATRT), is most often seen in children younger than three.
At the time, Francesca was six months old. The photo her dad posted (see above) showed a beautiful little girl with huge, warm brown eyes and a captivating smile.
Andrew (I don’t know him but feel as though I do) and his wife, Rachel Ensign, who’s a banking reporter at the Wall Street Journal, moved from their Brooklyn, New York home to Boston. The move was to enable Francesca, known as “Beans,” to be treated at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s pediatric oncology unit.
For a while, the reports were positive: this feisty little girl was charming everyone and good-naturedly putting up with all the tests and procedures she had to undergo.
Andrew wrote about his baby’s strength and resilience. “Less than a week ago she had two brain surgeries and she’s already at home and smiling. I’m confident she will fight this.”
Last month, Andrew informed us that Francesca was suffering from the results of the chemotherapy. Then she was on a ventilator. He asked his Twitter community for support, expressing his hope for a ”Christmas miracle for our family.” Many thousands responded. He said the outpouring was a great comfort to him and his wife.
On Christmas Day, Andrew wrote the following:
“We’re heartbroken to have to announce our beautiful daughter Francesca passed away last night in the arms of her mom and dad. There will always be a Bean-sized hole in our hearts for her. We’re so grateful to have known her love. Francesca, we love you.”
Andrew and his wife composed an obituary to their daughter that appears, with photos, in Medium, which you can access here. Francesca was then only nine months old. He wrote that they tried to “capture her short, wonderful life. She was a bold, curious baby, whose smile lit up rooms.”
The passage that particularly moved me to tears was:
“Her many smiles sent a thrill through the world. She was so generous with them, even when most of the smiles back were covered by masks and even when she faced challenges that would scare an adult, like a cancer diagnosis or being born with hearing loss.”
Now the Twitter community has come together to sponsor a woman named Danielle Pourbaix who is participating in the PMC (Pan-Mass Challenge) Winter Cycle bike-a-thon. All funds in memory of “Baby Francesca” (aka Beans) will go to pediatric oncology and ATRT research at Dana-Farber. The goal is $500,000, and nearly $479,000 has already been raised. That goal will surely be exceeded.
Andrew has said that he and his wife “are going to spend the rest of our lives involved in finding a cure.”
I doubt that I shall ever meet Andrew Kaczynski or Rachel Ensign. But I am grateful to have been a part of the strangely cohesive circle of love that he generated in thousands of us, to have given some support, and to have joined in that vast circle now trying to help him and his wife as we collectively mourn a joyful little girl who endured so much in her brief life but leaves a legacy of hope that others might be spared.
I have now seen up close the power of social media to remove all sorts of artificial barriers and appeal to the best in us, reminding us what’s truly important—compassion for one another—and can easily be shared.
The dangers of social media revealed by some of the remorseful tech designers in the documentary-drama “The Social Dilemma” must be addressed. But I believe the two designers who then founded The Center for Humane Technology are seeking to create just the kind of caring community that evolved through the grace and love that Andrew Kaczynski brought to Twitter through his brave and precious Francesca.
May 2021 be a year of healing for the Kaczynski family–and for our nation.