Every so often, some luddite troll pops up and barks about how relationships formed on the internet don’t mean anything. I need you to not believe them. Why? Well, I have a story to tell you.
I’m very good at forming relationships online. Having read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers this month, I did some quick math. Gladwell asserts that to be an expert at something you need to accumulate ten thousand hours working at it in a concerted manner. I’ve said before that I’ve been online for nearly half my life. Much of this, between 1999 and 2003, was spent developing, maintaining and curating a freely built, all-players-included rule free fantasy fiction universe. Four years. Given that I graduated High School in 2001 and spent the next two years doing nothing but building this world for ten to sixteen hours a day, I think it’s safe to say I know what I’m talking about. Ten thousand hours happens when you’re working eight hours a day, five days per week. At this point, I expect I’m nearing a hundred thousand hours actively cultivating my environment online. I’ve made a lot of friends.
I nearly proposed to a girl I met online. My co-author for The Dowager Shadow, who lives in England and who I’ve never met (yet) naturally, met me online. I’d met more people from this roleplay during it’s golden age than I had in most of the last two years of school. From this group of people, one family really stood out.
When I needed to escape from a very bad life situation in the summer of 2003, one of my friends – a New Yorker living in Windsor, Ontario at the time, named Dave – offered to take me in. I flew down. Lived there for six months while the fallout happened. Dave moved back to New York, I ended up bringing our other roommate home to Manitoba. That didn’t go so well. But I kept up with Dave afterward.
Dave got married just over a year after – in May of 2005, just after I met my wife – to another roleplayer whom he had met over the summer, a wonderful, vivacious woman named Blythe. She was one of the crowd who came up after Dave and I (to be fair, Dave was there before I was) so much of my getting to know her happened after their wedding, which I missed, because I couldn’t get time off work to fly down.
There was some really pure magic with Dave and Blythe. They fit, the way movies tell you you’re supposed to fit. They had passion, they were similar. Breathtaking to listen to; enriching each others lives in every way possible.
They have two sons. Who don’t have a mother now. Blythe passed away on the 30th of December – complications following a surgery. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. And completely ruinous to hear about.
I heard about this through Facebook. By the end of the day, on the 31st, I had a candle lit, had spoken to Dave on the phone, and had spent the better part of half an hour crying with my wife – who had never met Blythe either, but knew her none the less, because of me, and because of Dave. I wasn’t up late last night to mind the passing of the year; I spent three hours in bed, tending a set of candles and holding a private vigil. The first thing I did when I woke up this morning was light the white candle again – which burned straight through brunch and finally let itself our with more than a half hour of smouldering around four this afternoon.
I hadn’t ever met Blythe in person. How much does this matter? We can talk and talk about relationships and ephemera, but there’s a simple truth behind all of this. I – and others who live in the cloud – let into our lives people who we, under other circumstances, would never have been exposed to. Some of us form friendships that last for years, even decades – I’ve known Dave ten years, now. Some of us nearly propose to what people lacking this avenue of connection would call axe murderers or complete strangers.
Some of us get married, have children, and spend long periods of time happy in spite of everything the world can throw at us. Some of us, eventually, find ourselves shedding tears and sitting in speechless agony because, as connected as we can become, very little can change the fact that I can’t fly to New York and help Dave and his sons through this. One of my three or four best friends, in the world, is in the biggest pain he’ll ever experience and I can’t do anything.
But I can do something. I can tell you this story, and hope that you’ll light a candle for Blythe and Dave and their sons. I can hope that you take yourself, and your connections more seriously. If you allow it, foster it, there are so many sources of connection – to so many people so like you you’d barely believe it. If you allow it, some day you’ll light a candle for a friend you can’t be near enough to hug.
There’s pain in this. This connection and distance. Without this connection, Dave wouldn’t have had such a beautiful life for the last five and more years. Without it, I wouldn’t likely be alive, because I wouldn’t have known Dave, and he couldn’t have made the offer that saved me.
Without this connection and distance, I couldn’t tell you how much impact Blythe’s passing is having on me and my family, none of whom ever met her, and only one of whom met Dave.
I love my friends. I do everything I can for them, including trying, as hard as I can to make you notice, because someone should. Everyone should. Everyone needs someone in their lives like Blythe was for Dave.
Think about that for a few minutes. I’m going to go light another candle for the evening.
Update, January 3rd 2010: While I’m aware this is entirely unrelated, it’s reassuring to see that the idea of concerted connection is making itself known about the web. Chris Brogan made a post today about “Emotions at a Distance” that echoes the intention of this one; take the human connection seriously.
Update, April 18th 2010: It’s been a while since I checked in on this, but it’s worth mentioning. David is getting on alright. So am I. Surprisingly, we just spoke about getting some of the creative work from the old gold game up online. I’ll update with that more later. Keep taking your connections seriously.