Jonathan Parisen is a guy who was so drunk, he ended up on the train tracks. Steven Santiago is a guy who was so brave that he risked his life to help Parisen — a complete stranger — off the tracks, despite an oncoming train.
Santiago saved Parisen’s life, according to news reports, but the injuries he sustained ended up killing him. After hearing the news, Parisen tweeted: “I was just informed that Steven Santiago passed away today. My prayers go out to Steven and his family. God bless.”
That comment, which I admit sounds pretty unemotional to me, irked some internet commenters.
“Sounds like its no big deal to him,” said somebody on Gothamist.
“eh, the dude who saved my drunken ass died, maybe i’ll dedicate a tweet to him. that’ll show the world of my compassion,” said another.
And another went even further, saying: “His flippant attitude on Twitter when it comes to this matter is disturbing. But at least he’s keeping us informed on how annoying his legal woes are, the great research he’s doing for his screenplays, his abstract paintings, and how much he loves to eat! “
Out of curiosity, I checked Parisen’s Twitter feed. There are only three tweets about Santiago. The first, which was tweeted a few days after the incident, said: “Returning to Staten Island for a few hours. I’m going to stop by church to continue praying for Steven and his loved ones.”
Two days later, he tweeted: “I would like to ask everyone to say a prayer for Steven Santiago and his loved ones as I have been doing and will continue to do.”
And then, several weeks later, there was the tweet after Santiago died.
One definitely doesn’t get a sense of emotion from the tweets — unless you consider that these tweets are the only comments about something other than just “what I’m doing now” comments that Parisen apparently likes to tweet. So it’s easy to come to the conclusion that Gothamist commenters did. And for a few moments, I also thought that.
But then I thought about what I would tweet if somebody saved my life, and I really have no clue what I would say. What can you say in 140 characters about something so… big?
Let’s consider the many feelings one can have about such an incident: regret, shame, sadness, confusion, self-hatred, intense appreciation, and many other flashes of mixed emotions that a mind in such a situation could conjure up, maybe even a feeling that you wish the person who saved your life didn’t do it, that it wasn’t really worth it, and that now you’ll have an uncomfortable pressure for the rest of your life because you are forever indebted. And maybe a resentment for that pressure because you didn’t ask for it, but now have this burden on your shoulders.
So how do you tweet that? You can’t really. Any 140 character statement would sound superficial. Even if Parisen tweeted several meaningful tweets, people could still criticize it simply because it’s Twitter — a medium many consider to be superficial and mundane.
So is it better to just say nothing? Or, as Parisen did, a brief statement that you hope leads the reader to believe that there is more you want to say, but can’t?
There isn’t a correct answer to the question, but we do see the reactions that people can have to what Parisen tweeted, and they are pretty mean. Other than a complete self-flogging, it’s likely that nobody would have been “happy” with whatever Parisen tweeted. And therein we see one of the paradoxes of online communication: we constantly crave brevity, but when we get it, we get angry because we want something more.
We get really angry. Consider some of the comments from NY Post readers:
“What an absolute scumbag this Parisen is. Well, your drunken stupidity killed a man who gave his life to save yours. And you think a “tweet” is going to fix that. Time to sell everything you own, give the proceeds to the guy’s family, and go live on the streets.”
And this one:
“Now is a good reason for the film maker to kill himself right this time.”
And another judgment based on Parisen’s Twitter feed:
Reading this tool’s Twitter feed is very informative. It seems he’s been having a very pleasant time while Mr. Santiago fought his injuries. “Had a nice dinner with my bestfriend. Picked up some art supplies” for example. And “Enjoying a cup of hot coco at The Full Cup on Staten Island.” Also of note is “Off to Staten Island to fight to keep my attorney for my upcoming case in March. Fun fun fun.” — I wonder what this “court case” is? Could it be the case related to his drunken stupidity which killed a man? If so, isn’t it nice that he thinks it’s all “fun fun fun.” But here’s the clincher: “yay! I get to keep my attorney Michael Hardin (Al Sharptons attorney.) Very happy about that, I’m in very capable hands.” — how fitting! The scumbag gets an attorney who’s well used to representing scumbags! Oh and we also know he’s a left wing tool, via the Tweet: “Let’s be honest about this, these people protesting the fact that NJ Gov Christie lowering the flag for Whitney are clearly racist.”
Parisen might be a good guy, or he might be a complete dick. I don’t know. But what I do know is that there is nothing that Parisen could have said that would have “satisfied” people, other than manic admissions of guilt and shame, which even then might not have been enough.
So, the moral of the story is: if somebody dies from saving your life, just delete your Twitter account.