James Kang was my first Facebook friend—the first person to post something on my white, empty wall when I finally (reluctantly) joined Facebook on Thursday night. James and I worked together on the KCBS morning show for several years, and each time I walked in the security doors in the pre-dawn hours, exhausted and sometimes grumpy, James would greet me as if I was the most special person in the world. James always remembered my birthday–although I never remembered his. But that didn’t matter. James was a giving, not a receiving, kind of guy.
“Hi Suzanne. SO great to see you on Facebook!” James wrote a few minutes after I became a social networker. The photo that accompanied his note was taken at Dodger Stadium—one of the happiest places on earth for James. “Hope you and the family are doing well.”
“James!” I wrote back, his friendly face on the page making me instantly feel less fearful of the unknown Facebook frontier. “Love to see you, if only in pictures!” But this happy reunion in cyberspace would be short lived. Less than twenty-four hours after our chat, the Facebook page of James Kang had become a memorial site, his wall one of collective grief when the forty-two year old died in the CBS parking lot on Friday, May 27th.
It was sadly ironic that the reason I had finally decided to join Facebook was because of the loss of another friend. Tracey Firestone Greenberg died of breast cancer on Wednesday, May 25th, also at the age of forty-two (the musing about the incredible odds of losing two friends, two days apart, at the same age, are best saved for someone wiser, because all I can say is that it sucks). Tracey’s Facebook page had grown like a living thing—and I wanted to be part of the on-line celebration of this mother of three’s incredible, indomitable spirit. So, with the help of my friend Daisy, a Facebook veteran who was visiting us in Maine, I created my own Facebook page. When Daisy saw that James had “friended” me, she smiled.
“He’s such a nice guy,” she said, being one of James’ co-worker at KCBS. “And you know one thing about him? He always “Likes” everything!”
Of course he did! I thought, as Daisy and I sat weeping together the next night, in shock at the unbelievable news that was spreading at warp speed on Facebook. Clicking the “Like” button was James’ way of spreading the love–his way of saying, “Whether you are posting about what you had for lunch or your boyfriend’s new haircut, I support you!” How much better would the world be, I thought, if each of Facebook’s 500 million users could find as many things to like in life as James did?
With his benevolent, uncomplicated personality and rare innocence, James seemed kind of like a guru. He led by example and simply did not do negativity, gossip, or guile (and in a newsroom, this is an extraordinary feat). And while James looked much younger than his forty-two years, he showed the competence, caring, intelligence and wisdom of a much older, wiser soul.
When he died, James Kang had 386 friends on Facebook, people who are now using words like “kind”, “angel”, “loyal”, “genuine”, and happy” to describe him. In the wake of this sudden loss, I can’t help but believe that James leaves behind a “Like” button legacy from which we can all learn. Whether it was in his personal life, his workspace, or in cyber space, James knew that spreading sunshine is a lot more rewarding than darkness, something he practiced every day. And my first Facebook friend never expected anything in return for his kindness. The world could use more people like him, not less.