I signed onto Twitter and saw sad but cryptic tweets from people I know. “I can’t believe it.” “I’m gutted.” “She connected me to so many amazing women.” “I’m hoping it’s not true.”
Obviously something bad had happened to someone, but to whom?
Then I thought about the circle of people who were tweeting about the then-unidentified loss, and how they were connected. How we were connected. And who it was who connected us all together.
I sent the message I didn’t want to send, and got back almost immediate verification. It was true. It was Erica. Erica Kennedy was gone.
And a light went off somewhere in my world.
I’m not going to act like Erica Kennedy and I were close personal friends – or besties, as she would say. We never met in person. I never even spoke to her. Our relationship was purely through social media. And yet, I considered her a friend. Her death has affected me deeply.
Erica is completely, 100% responsible for my presence on Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc. over the last five years – and I don’t even know where she came from. I was a nobody on Facebook. I wasn’t blogging. I wasn’t on Twitter. I was just random me – unknown me – a lawyer and frustrated writer who had written a few Facebook Notes that I figured no one but my close friends read anyway. And somehow I got invited to join this secret group of women, by a woman I’d never heard of before.
I bought her first book after I was invited to join the group, but honestly I was baffled. What did I have in common with this group of women? Why me?
In our group – which was less of a “secret society” than a carefully curated group of women who were connected in ways only Erica had the foresight to understand – the selection criteria was simply Erica’s genius.
Such a gift that she had, and that she gave. That’s why I’m so blown away by her passing.
In our group, we talked about everything, and I mean everything - pop culture nonsense, shoes, fashion – you name it. But the group really gelled during the 2008 Presidential debates. Erica set up a chat for us to critique the debates, and we bonded and celebrated then-candidate Obama. Erica always managed to make it all culturally, socially and politically relevant. It all mattered. Our opinions mattered. We – all of us – mattered.
And everyone was equal. The established writers, producers and filmmakers were just as important as those of us who were just dipping our baby toes into the lives we weren’t even sure were possible. Erica knew our dreams were more than dreams. She saw in all of us what we didn’t always see in ourselves.
Erica and I never spoke or met, but she edited one of my favorite pieces, “The Sweetest Potato Pie.” She even came up with the title. I emailed her a draft that I was pretty proud of, and she emailed me back almost immediately. Her response was positive, but she immediately honed in on where the piece still needed work:
“But the one big missing piece…is that I still don’t really know how you feel about your mother. And I should know that. Do you…worship her? Feel the burden of living up to her? Feel like you’re not living up to her expectations? Does SHE make you feel that way (whichever way you feel) or is it something you’re doing to yourself? What kind of mother has that made you? Do you have to take care of her now and how does that make you feel? Have you ever let her taste your pie? Would you?”
Erica was so intuitive. She was good at tapping into who a person was and what they were all about. Intuitive without being intrusive.
It was easy to look at Erica and think of cliches like “the Midas touch.” She was so beautiful, and seemed to lead such a charmed life. Everything she did was golden. Everything she tried, succeeded. Erica was successful because she always gave her all. She never held back. She didn’t worry about success. She didn’t worry about failure. She followed her passions and believed her livelihood would flow from there.
That was the number one best advice she gave to all of us. Some of us have done better with following her advice than others, but we all remember it, and it rings true for all of us.
And that was the genius of Erica Kennedy.
Erica saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself – and still have a hard time seeing. Her death was a wake up call. To me, Erica’s life means – whatever power you have, on a big scale or small, you have to own it and run with it and make the most of it. Even if you never reach the masses, you have to reach the audience given to you. You have to follow and honor your calling.
I get frustrated when my reach isn’t as big as I think it should be. After a few days of wallowing in self-pity, I stop. I remember that my words have power not measured in hits, page views or “likes.”
Erica Kennedy is the person who taught me that lesson.
I tweeted last night that Erica was a curator of people, and of love. I never properly thanked her for everything she did for me, for all of us. Belatedly, I’m thanking her now. I’m thanking the spirit that never dies for the gift she gave to us all, and grieving that I never got to say these words to her in person.
And I challenge all of us – all who are blessed to have been touched by Erica Kennedy, and those of us who have found our own connections to one another – to honor her by continuing to support and teach and guide and love one another.