A reader writes:
I just read your “The Best of The Dish Today” with all its great news about the Dish’s relative financial health and wellbeing. Congratulations, mazel tov, salud, and all those great good wishes.
However, the reason I moused over to your page moments ago was a more somber one, but one that left me feeling deeply grateful to you and your intrepid crew for the work you do creating a space on the web – the fucking web of all places! – that is enriching, thoughtful, and never cynical in that particularly despicable, webby way. Earlier today I received the troubling news that a college student from the tight-knit community I grew up in attempted suicide late last night. He’s a bright, sweet guy, and my dad’s been something of a mentor to him, so the story sent me reeling. A dear friend lost his father to suicide last summer, and if I’m honest, I’ve had depressions that I stubbornly wouldn’t treat that probably brought me closer to thinking about it than I ever care to be again. So the issue’s close to me (as it is for so many).
I thought back a month or so to Jennifer Michael Hecht’s incredible first Ask Anything video and needed to find and re-watch it. Andrew, I wept. As she offered her gratitude to those who choose to stay with us despite their pain, I wept for joy over Jennifer’s compassion, brilliance, and fierce moral intelligence. And I wept for joy that we have in you a man with both the pugnacity to make it in the rough-and-tumble world of media and the sensitivity to recognize the importance of conversations like that one; you’re a rare breed, Sully.
And as I sat there weeping and pondering the mystery of intrinsic, immutable human worthiness (which, to bring in another thread, if Jesus had any point it surely was that), I felt more grateful than ever for the community that you’ve made with the Dish, since, as Hecht’s work on suicide has taught us, community is the whole point, in the end.
Have you ever noticed that for all that the web’s social media networks and listservs and affinity groups and message boards claim to be “virtual communities,” they always fall short? That the web – but not the Dish – is actually terrible at community? I think what others miss and that you haven’t is that you can’t form a real community just by sticking together a bunch of people who like the same stuff or think the same way or have the same friends. Real community isn’t a place at all, but something more like the phenomenon of people experiencing respect and love and admiration for others they might not share much with, or might not even particularly like. Being forced in with people unlike you is a necessary condition. Real community needs dissent and diversity.
And, my god, is that the Dish. When you’re taking a big, clear stand against the hypocrisy of our Church or teaching the tao of meep meep, I could kiss you on your beautiful, bearded mouth. When you’re prattling on about The Bell Curve or getting weirdly defensive about some untenable position you’ve staked out while readers kick your rhetorical ass, I could whack you on your shiny, bald pate. But either way I’m so glad that you’re here and that I get to read your work. That you’ve made a place for so many of us to share in this together is even more amazing. I’d bet a whole lot that the community you’ve made is the one that some readers most want to “stay” for. And I hope you’re damn proud of that.
So all of that’s to say please keep doing what you do. Please keep talking about suicide and the other impossible questions. And more importantly: thank you. For all of it.
(Top photos of Dish readers used with their permission. Bottom photos of Dish staff, clockwise from top-left: Matthew Sitman, Patrick Appel, Chris Bodenner, Katie Zavadski, Brian Senecal, Chas Danner, Alice Quinn, Jessie Roberts (inset), Tracy Walsh, and Jonah Shepp in the center square. Read a bit about each of them here.)