I’ve been thinking about what I will do the next time I have occasion to make eye contact with Sheryl Sandberg. It will happen eventually. My husband works at Facebook. I’ve had a few brief in-real-life interactions with her (the company Christmas party and a hello in the parking lot). Even in passing, she was warm and genuine. She made an effort to look me in the eye and say hello.
A few days after her husband, Dave Goldberg, died last month, Sandberg posted a public tribute to Dave for her Facebook followers. (Incidentally, the distinction between friends and followers is a helpful tool in the Facebook kit.) The post was accompanied by pictures of the couple that look like intimate family snapshots rather than formal portraits. It was the kind of thing you might see on your friends’ Facebook feeds. The post was carefully crafted, but still personal. “If the day I walked down that aisle with Dave someone had told me that this would happen - that he would be taken from us all in just 11 years - I would still have walked down that aisle.” I read that sentence and cried when I realized I feel the same way about my spouse.
Last week, Sandberg posted a longer reflection on what she’s learned from 30 days of grieving. As of today, there were nearly 880,000 likes and 395,000 shares. Media outlets picked it up and commentators started talking about it.
I can see why. She writes about what she’s learned, from the profound to the practical (“Let’s all move out of the way [for ambulances]”). What she writes is raw and real. It’s also wise and blessedly free from the sort of simplistic, “God had a purpose” or “he was too good for this world” sentiment that makes me cringe. I think she could have had a lovely dialogue with Job as he disputed the faulty theology of his less than helpful friends. She names the tension between living with the futility of tragedy and still trying to construct meaning as she grieves. I love this statement she makes about how the last month has passed for her: “I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser.”
Sandberg’s public grief strikes me as the best kind of vulnerability.
I’m sure there are some who find it a little strange to see a public figure laying out her grief on Facebook as if she was one of your real-life friends. One valid criticism of our Internet age is the prevalence of oversharing. But Sandberg’s public grief strikes me as the best kind of vulnerability - it’s not just about exposing oneself to the world, but is a reflection that ultimately nurtures community. It’s an insightful piece of writing that I intend to give people in my congregation when we need to talk about grief work. While she writes out of her own Jewish religious perspective, her thoughts dovetail with many things that the Christian tradition also values.
Christian living has its roots in real life. We call our community “the body of Christ,” the in-the-world embodiment of a God who came, in the flesh, and lived and breathed and died among us. The incarnation models vulnerability to us: God opened up to us, and we, in turn, open up to each other. The corrective to oversharing is not stoicism or suffering in private. It’s learning to share in ways that allow others to be God’s comfort to us, and that call everyone to care for each other with a love that is flesh-and-bones real.
Sandberg’s vulnerability online has so much to teach us about our relationships with each other in real life. I’m grateful for it. I don’t know that the company picnic is the venue at which to share that gratitude, but I intend to meet her gaze warmly, say hello and say a little prayer of thanks for her gift to us in sharing her grief with honesty and openness.