I’ve lost another friend I’ve never met. My heart hurts.

Many, many years ago when the internet and I were both much younger, I got a computer with a modem in it. Our first and most expensive computer didn’t have that hardware so we upgraded. Then I got my AOL disk in the mail and I could connect to everywhere with a baud rate of 2400 and if I didn’t get a busy signal when dialing in. But there was the world. The entire freaking world. No streaming video and barely still images, but the entire freaking world.

It didn’t take me long to find chat rooms and meet a bunch of really great people – online. Well, Dick and I actually met David, but everyone else was just a screen name and yet, I knew them and their stories. It is our stories, both real and imagined, which make us who we are. The stories we tell ourselves and share with the world defines who we are. How we see ourselves. How we interact with the world around us.

I’m still friends with a couple people from the old Philosophy chat room. At least I’m friends with them on Facebook. I’ve never met them. But I care about them and their lives and their hopes and dreams, both realized and dashed. I count them as my people. But I’ve never met them.

I grew up and so did the internet and I left AOL and got Ethernet and cable and off I went at a greater speed and without worrying about a busy signal.

I’ve joined a number of different communities via the computer and the internet and the World Wide Web and IE and then Chrome. I’ve found multiple people who think like I do and even more who don’t. I’ve found people who care about crafting with yarn, CrossFit, coloring, writing, and storytelling via blogs.

I know many people I’ve never met. I know their lives and their stories and their dreams. I’ve shared my life, stories, and dreams with them. Sometimes I have seen their pictures and might be able to recognize them if they suddenly and magically appeared in front of me. Some, I have no idea what they look like.

Just a few days ago, I reconnected with an old neighbor. It has to be around 25 years since we last spoke, but when I heard her voice on the phone, it was immediately recognizable.

Many of my friends from around the world could stand in front of me and I wouldn’t know it. They could magically call me and I wouldn’t recognize their voices. But just like my real friend from long ago, they are my real friends now.

We try to impress upon folks the fact that there are real people behind the screens and so we should think before we type on social media. But we often negate the close ties we form with strangers from around the web. I have spent years communicating and sharing stories (real and imagined) with people from every continent. Some people have stayed in my life and some have slipped through my fingers just by attrition. This is true even in my real time life.

One of my  online friends has died. I knew she was ill. I knew her appearance online had dwindled. We were the three musketeers, the three amigos, the triumvirate. And now we are two. The three-legged stool has tipped over. My balance has shifted.

I can’t send a card or flowers or anything. I know what country she lived in but that’s all her geographic details she shared. It doesn’t really matter when we can gather together from around the globe no matter where our feet are.

I lost a friend today. A real friend. A dear friend. A friend who shared stories with me. We’ve never met, but still … she was my friend. And the world is a little sadder today.