If anyone doubts the reality or validity of virtual relationships, wait until someone who you know only through the virtual world commits suicide.
Yesterday was one of those remarkably surreal days. I was perched in the corner of Starbucks and periodically checking my Twitter account when I read the following tweet.
“@jbonewald: Sadenned to hear of the death of one of my tweeps, @gideony RIP http://tr.im/HOOQ”
A rush of emotion hit me from all sides as I pondered what I had just read. “Wait a friggin minute. I know this guy.” I quickly checked the link and then called the funeral home listed in the link. It was true. This was the same Gideon Addington that I had shared book clubs, Facebook chats, and Twitter tweets with for the last six months.
My heart sunk. Why did he die? And then a close friend of his confirmed it. Gideon had committed suicide. This is one of those things I never saw coming.
I met Gideon through shared dialog and conversation on Twitter and then through an online book club. We shared a desire for knowing God, following Jesus in a postmodern world, theology and what it meant to embrace and give love to the other. Gideon was both passionate and conflicted. But more importantly he was willing to share that experience with those around him. He wasn’t afraid to share his heart, even when his words weren’t necessarily convenient.
Gideon’s wrote this a little more than a month ago.
I am broken among the broken…
Lord, deliver me from my despair. Give me strength that I might continue to fight. I am tired, I am lonely, and I feel I am alone among the mad. I know I am not alone but my heart breaks. Help me, save me.. I try so hard, yet I know I should try harder and that there is much I could do but do not… Have mercy on me, help me be a better instrument, a better servant and a better healer for those that come before me. Save me from pride, from arrogance, and help me remember that I am broken among the broken. Give me wisdom to discern what I can and cannot do, and what I must walk to and away from. Lord, save me. Amen. -Gideon Addington, Nov. 7, 2009
But as pondered the loss I became aware of something. I have never met Gideon in person. This connection of ideas, and words, and a willingness to dialog about it was entirely virtual. Our book club exchanges were all video based. And our chats were all textual. That’s it. Gideon was the textbook definition of a virtual friend. But I felt his loss as though he were someone I had met. I felt the loss the same as those who I have lost in my life. The image of God, reflected in Gideon, was now gone.
This experience made me question those who think that virtual community is not real. I seriously question that now. And the reason I do is that the means were different (personal vs. virtual) but there is still a person on the other side of the video, text, and messages.
I will miss you Gideon. See you soon brother.