I’ve been staring at a blank screen trying to think what to write. Something happened in this past week that’s changed a lot of how I’m seeing things, but I’m finding it very hard to think about, let alone talk about in any meaningful way. I’m going to start at a seemingly unconnected point and go from there.
When I had a baby in 1999, I was young and scared and I felt very alone. Online parenting communities became very important to me, because in my day-to-day life, I didn’t know any other parents my own age. It was a tough time, and my sanity was often saved by the shared communal experience I found in my computer. That original website is long gone, but many of the friendships I made there have outlasted the site itself.
I’m a member of a few online communities these days. I used to scoff at relationships established on the web but I’ve made some of my closest friendships with people I met online. Some of these folks remain, to this day, invisible friends. I’ve never met them in person, and I may never do so, but we correspond regularly, and those friendships are genuine.
This past week, one of my invisible friends passed away. Suddenly, sadly, at a very young age. And I’ve been struggling to comprehend this.
I never met Heather in person, but her friendship was dear to me. She’s one of the people in my life I most looked up to as a parent, and as a human being. She combined devastating wit with good sense, a level head, and a compassionate heart. When I was being uncharitable or ridiculous, she brought me back to myself. Her loss is incalculable, both to her family, and to the world at large, which needs people like Heather in it.
There are times, a lot of them, when I feel less than confident and Heather was so often there to reassure me that being human is more than OK. Her love for her family shone through in everything she wrote, and her broad understanding of the vagaries of man made her compassionate as well as sharp. Heather was a Catholic, and very strong in her faith, while I am a technical Jew, raised Catholic, and now atheistic, and our theological discussions were among my favorites. She never failed to make me think.
It’s hard to read Heather’s writing now, in some ways, because it’s a reminder of how much everyone who loved her lost. But I’m damn lucky to have had her as a friend, and I’m grateful that some of her time on earth was dedicated to that written correspondence. I’m grateful that I still have her wise, funny, biting, and compassionate words to read.
Invisible friends may not be before us in person, but their friendship is still of great value. In writing this blog, I’ve begun written correspondences with many people I consider my friends. I’m often awkward at telling people what their friendship means to me, but I’m so, so grateful for those of you who have reached out to tell me about your own lives, who have embraced mine, and who have written to me just to chat. We’re friends. Not “friends”, not imaginary friends, not halfway down the path to friendship. Friends. Thank you for your friendship.
I wanted to end with some of Heather’s words. She will be missed, terribly, but many of her words will remain.
Although we each think of ourselves as individuals, humanity is in fact a whole. Mankind is in ways one thing, not a collection of things that happen to be alike. The evil that I do affects you either directly or indirectly. Like ripples in a pond, every act for good or for ill affects everyone.
People make other people. Humans don’t spring fully-formed out of the aether. We are born and raised by parents.
You were born into circumstances that were chosen for you by the collective choices of all your ancestors, and those circumstances were heavily influenced by your ancestors’ societies, cultures, and humanity as a whole. You are not the product of your choices and your choices alone.
This means, unfortunately, that there will always be innocent victims. They did not choose to be victims, their victimizers chose to do evil. Sin is a societal event, not an individual one. The good news is that love, charity, and all the virtues you cultivate also belong to society.
We like to talk about the interconnectedness of all of humanity, but since we primarily think of ourselves as individuals, we don’t realize how wonderful and terrible our interconnectedness actually is.