I belong to a terrific writing group (and if you tell them they're terrific or that I said they were, they'll 1) deny it and 2) skewer me for insulting them). I can't imagine my life without them now, even though the ones I've met, I've met briefly (we had a fantastic retreat in 2004. We STILL talk about it and trot out the inside jokes to giggle over.).
I consider this group of women (and one very brave man) to be friends. Yes, we interact online, through cyberspace and live all over the world, but let me tell you something--when the chips are down, they are There.
Several years ago, my middle son decided it would be a good idea to fall a good 10 feet out of a tree and break his head (a li'l crack, he was VERY lucky)... I called one of the Bats, she posted that my son was being taken via helicopter to the hospital. By the time I got home that night and got online to post the details, the main topic of conversation was "Have you heard from L? How's her son? Why don't we know more yet?" That prompted the start of our telephone tree--now there's NO escaping-- we have the means to hunt you down, by golly, and we will if you've posted something that's cause for concern.
Sadly, this past week, we had ocassion to come together and really test the strength of our cyber-friendship. We've always maintained that we're family, and this past week proved it.
We'd been keeping up with the health issues of a group spouse. He fought and fought and fought, but in the end, he really just needed to go home. So he did, last Monday in the wee hours of the morning. It was Sunday afternoon/evening for the larger percentage of us-- they're Australian-- and boy, lemme tell you, within the hour of another Aussie Bat posting the news, everyone who was awake had chimed in. Money was sent for flowers; a scrapbook with pages made by us was organized and ready to go--just waiting for our contributions; and we even scheduled a real-time chat to coincide with the memorial services-- an online wake--the first I've ever attended/organized.
From all around the world, we came together not just as friends, but as members of a family, to grieve with our widowed friend and come to terms with our own reactions to this (it's our first loss of a spouse, incidentally). I'd never met Valerie or her husband in person, but that didn't stop me--and everyone else-- from feeling like a member of my/our own family had died.
Friendship. It's not whether you've met face-to-face or whether you can go out to lunch and a movie together. It's about caring, loving, and feeling. It's about talking to each other, even through posts and emails when you can't speak in "real time." It's about the connections we make, and clearly, those connections don't need to be made in person.