A little over ten years ago, I took the plunge and wrote my first blog post. I had been playing fantasy baseball at The Sporting News and opted to take them up on their offer of a free sports blog. The thought of being able to share my interest in baseball or other sports intrigued me a bit as it allowed me to share my thoughts and my voice without necessarily putting myself out there. It was a baby step for introverts, so to speak.
I’ll admit that during those first few days, I was not quite sure what to expect. My first post did not get a huge reception, but as I began to write more I came to a realization; if I wanted people to read, I needed to network. So I began reading and commenting on other blog posts and they in turn followed by user name back to my blog. I had found the readers that I was craving, but I found something else along the way.
I found a new type of friend.
I will admit that it took me years to come to grips with the fact that these people, some of which I started to converse with on a daily basis, were truly friends, and not in that watered-down Facebook mentality. They did not fit into that traditional stereotype, but for all intents and purposes, some of these people truly became my friends. Even after the dissolution of blogging community at The Sporting News, when many of us went our own way, many of us found a way to stay in touch, including a small band that started its own sport community website.
Fast forward four years to the present day and I am currently struggling with another aspect of this brave new world.
With every gain, there is also loss.
In order for friendships to be formed, an emotional investment must be made between two people, even with so-called virtual friendships. Despite the fact that you may never meet some of these people in real life, and some of which I have, you still make the choice to consciously fit these people into your lives and believe it or not, you look forward to “seeing” them.
But what happens when one day, that person is no longer there to look forward to seeing?
Recently, one of those friends that I first “met” at Sporting News and then carried over to the new community passed away in real life. Many of us didn't know what had happened to him until someone in his family returned an email and advised that he had passed away from a stroke a few weeks earlier, at the tender age of 45. He left behind three children and a family that will forever miss him.
And he also left behind a legion of friends that were suddenly, like me, struggling to know what emotions to feel.
How exactly should the loss of a person you’ve never met truly affect a person? Do you have the right to feel bad for yourself when this person had a real family and real friends, people whose lives he had touched in the real world? Can you truly grieve for a reflection of a person?
For the past several days, I have asked myself these questions, just searching for an answer. I have wrestled with whether I was truly entitled to be saddened by the passing of someone I knew by a moniker and an avatar. What right do I have to share in that emotion?
I came to the realization that I have just as much right as any other friend he had in the real world, and so do the hundreds of other friends he made in similar fashion. Regardless of them being words passed in a physical conversation or in a virtual one, they were still words shared between two friends. No stigma placed on that friendship by society makes it any less real than it was to him or it was to me.
If I have every right in the world to call him a friend, then I have every right in the world to mourn him as one.
Rest in peace brother.