In casting about for ideas for this blog post, because as always I am utterly inept at planning ahead, my friend TimH suggested “purgatory friends.”

Only that’s not what he actually suggested. He said:

“write about the odd ‘purgatory level’ of friends on social media that you’ve never met, but consider on the friend end of the spectrum rather than the other end”

It struck me hard because, eh, aren’t all my friends “purgatory friends”? We’re all in this together, online or f2f. Here we are. This level or down a couple or up a few.

I’ve often been fond of the phrase “we don’t need Hell because life is hell already” but given that I’m an atheist, it’s not like a ever thought “going to Hell” was a possibility for me or anyone I know.

Purgatory, though…that resonates.

It’s traditionally a Roman Catholic notion of “after-death purification”, which can be related back to other, more ancient traditions about “post life stages” (thnx, wikipedia). But the idea of purification is, in a lot of ways, similar to the Buddhist ideas of traveling through awareness to enlightenment.

My years of zen practice always made me wary of the term satori (awakening, ¬†enlightenment), because it is too easily applied (in the West) to transitory experiences of grace. Flash-pan satori sometimes happens on the way to greater understanding, but there is always more meditation to be done, more “purification” of the mind to focus on the present moment.

I feel like we are all slogging through purgatory towards awakening. It’s a nice mish-mash of spiritual traditions, but I have to admit, it feels pretty accurate too.

Which makes this a purgatory without Hell, or Heaven. We’re here, because this is what we’ve got, and it is hard. It is tragic. Unlike Dante’s version of Hell in descending levels, this purgatory is one solid marble of life and continual renaissance.

Whether I’ve met my social networking friends in the flesh is immaterial. We’re all¬†here, after all, whether our connections are fleshly or digital. This is our one solid marble of presence, where ever we are, we are on it, we are in purgatory.

You and me, purgatory friends — we’re all slogging our way to grace, together.

Also published on Medium.

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