Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rest In Peace Third Stone

The internet has changed the way we think, work, shop and probably most importantly, how we relate to people. I’ve considered this before, but last week it touched me in a very personal way. Let me explain.

Several years ago, I think it was 2005, I joined the website operated by The Sporting News, TSN. At first it was just to play online Fantasy Baseball (for you true devotees, it was online Strat-O-Matic), but as I starting reaching out to the community I discovered a rich blogging experience. Initially a reader and commenter, I was encouraged by my new found friends to blog—primarily by my internet Godfather Lew Troop. I’ve always been a writer, but had not blogged before. And Lew pushed and encouraged and critiqued me into it. He’s the only one of my TSN pals that I’ve ever had contact with outside the ‘net, and we spoke often and regularly on the phone.

Blogging became a wellspring for me. In addition to a creative outlet that really encouraged and developed my talent, it was a repository for my work—and I’ll tell you that I had some great stuff out there. Twice TSN recognized and posted my work on the national site, I won the only blogging contest I ever entered, and my colleagues recognized one of my pieces as among the best on the TSN site and named me to the Hall of Fame. This was all in the span of a little more than a year.

Unfortunately, my advancing career limited the time I could spend on blogging at that point, and I drifted away from it. Eventually, the sight was shut down, and I lost over 100 of the best pieces and columns I’d ever written. That still grinds me.

But in addition to the writing, I had stumbled upon an amazing network of friends. Not traditional at all, but friends none the less. I only ever had that one that I talked with on the phone, and have never met any of them in person; less from a conscious decision than from

But they’re friends. We mourn each other’s losses, encourage and support, celebrate the highs. And when one of us is gone for an extended period without contact the network whips into action and we try and find out what happened to the missing member of the family.

When TSN broke down, the core group started another blogging community. I’ve yet to engage to write or post there, but I read it regularly; and others of us connected via Facebook and Twitter. And I can tell you they’re among my closest friends. They’ve shared in my career and job changes, family moments and all of the things your friends are always there for. I’m attached to them. I need only get a retweet from Sharp Tusk (@SharpTusk) or a favorite from Jesse (@WhistlePig11) and it’s like my grade school best friend has called. They rally around you too. Through Sharp Tusk, I’ve become an adopted member of Arkansas Razorback nation, even thoughI’m a dyed in the wool Crème and Crimson Indiana Hoosier fan. I was struggling to reach 100 followers onTwitter (@GregLHoover) and ST fired out a missive to his beloved Hawg Nation and BANG! I had more #WPS tags (Woo Pig Sooey!, an Arkansas thing) than you can shake a stick at. I felt like someone from the country who was a little lost and had been taken in by his City neighbors.

And while this is all centered on our writing and blogging, it’s like the friends you meet from work that you have a beer with or go to dinner or a ball game, you develop other closer relationships. We’ve got standing jokes about the Mayans, the Apocalypse (actually Hogpocalypse as my WPS buds call it), and many others. They’re a very significant and important part of my life and I love each and every one of them.

And last week, the haunting shadow that I knew was back there but had never acknowledged came calling: we lost one of our old TSN gang, Third Stone From the Sun. Third Stone was a great writer—primarily on NFL and NFL Hall of Fame subjects—and he’d been MIA for a couple of weeks…when one of our friends was contacted via e-mail. Stone had suffered a stroke and passed away on January 22, 2012. Only 45, he left a wife and three young daughters.

Now, I only knew Stone from his writing. He’d have recognized me as well, though we’d never even so much as exchanged messages. I’m not even sure I’d ever posted in response to one of his pieces. But he was part of my TSN family. Certainly not as close as Lew Troop, Frags, Sharp Tusk, Harvey Dakota or numerous others…but there none-the-less. I can tell you that when I learned of his passing I cried, and was maudlin for most of the day and the rest of that week.

So how do you wrap your arms around that? Why this sense of loss for someone you’ve never even so much as exchanged an e-mail with?

Well it’s not as complex as you might think. Our emotional attachments come from interaction…and in this case, I’d interacted with Stone by knowing his opinions, his writing style, his likes and dislikes; even if we hadn’t directly communicated. That’s the thing about the internet—it’s changing paradigms all over the place. And now it’s changed another for me by redefining how I meet, engage, grow fond of other people, and eventually mourn their loss. Hopefully this is the first of many such times, because while it hurts, it’s also the mark that we’re out there developing lasting and important relationships that matter to us; the essential point of life from where I stand.

So Godspeed and Rest in Peace Third Stone; and prayers of sympathy and support to your family and little girls. While the old expression “we hardly knew you” might seem apt here, it really isn’t. Because even though it’s different from how I’ve known others for all of my 51 years, I knew you very well. I liked your writing, I respected your opinions, I looked forward to “seeing”you, and I am going to miss you being a part of my universe—even if it was the digital and virtual one.