I lost a friend I’ve never met last week. There are no real social protocols yet for online friendships. How do you respond when someone you only know online dies? This post is my response. It is all I have, and essentially it is an online response, so perhaps it will be fitting.
Years ago, back in the days of 28.8 modems and Windows 3.1, I first connected to what was then called the World Wide Web. We didn’t know how big this thing was going to get, and there wasn’t much commercial content online. Search engines were just being written. I can remember looking at books of links, like a big telephone book. Anyway, being an old Marine, one of things I first searched for was Marine Corps websites.
I found a forum site called the TheFew.com. It’s gone now. But some of the people that posted there ended up at The Few, The Proud, The Marines Forum. We would post news, old stories, jokes, like any forum, with a emphasis on the Corps.
I met Jim Barton there. He always posted under the name Dittychaser. We had both been Marines, both around the same time frame, we were both Catholic, had children, and both of us were Boy Scout leaders. He always had interesting things to share. His insights, and his tone, made him stand out among the group. We corresponded on the board, and occasionally by email. I always made a point to look for his posts.
When two of my sons were hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2005, they ran out of money. I gave them what I could, and then did something I’ve never done. I started a fund raising effort. Scouts, Scouters, friends from work and church, all made contributions big and small. I wrote a post about it on the forum, and some of the Marines responded. Jim was one of them. He made a significant contribution.
This man, Scout leader and Marine, whom I had never met in person, wrote a check and mailed it to me so that two young men could continue a hike. He was that sort of person.
I learned last summer that he was very ill, the last email I got from him was in September, and it was a goodbye note that he must have sent to many friends. It was, as always, heartfelt and positive. His daughter posted this note on the forum on the 29th of January.
It is my loss that I didn’t have the opportunity to meet him, to take a hike, or take a Scout Troop on a campout with him.
Goodbye, Jim. Semper Fidelis.
Since every death diminishes us a little, we grieve – not so much for the death as for ourselves.