It becomes a part of your daily routine. Every day, you stop in, see what new has happened with your team, who is complaining about the bad start, what the guy that never has anything nice to say is complaining about now, and who you think is being underappreciated.
To some, it seems silly. But to a far increasing number, a message board community is like an extended family. Not only do they rigorously discuss and debate the issues of the board, but they wish other members a happy birthday, provide off topic advice and develop bonds, all without ever meeting one another.
But when tragedy strikes and a member is lost, how does one react?
Members of the TigsTown community (and Tiger communities around the ‘net) were faced with this very issue, when it came to light that Brian Bluhm, a 25-year old Virginia Tech grad student and diehard Tiger fan, was killed in the tragedy.
Bluhm, or VtTigers as he was known to us, was just weeks away from graduating with his master's in civil engineering. Instead of preparing to defend his thesis and move to a new job in Baltimore though, his family will have to mourn his loss.
But what about his extended message board family? How do we mourn? We can't go to his funeral, look back at pictures of better times, or grieve with the family. After all, if he was sitting right next to one of us, we probably would have no idea. After all, we never met in person.
Instead, we find new ways to grieve. Instead of looking at pictures, we read old posts. Instead of a funeral, everyone posts a tribute of a favorite memory. Others simply quietly reflect on the fact that someone they never really knew, but felt like they did, will no longer be there.
Some express bewilderment – how can you mourn someone you never actually knew? But the forumites know better – you can know someone without recognizing his face, just like you could identify a favorite food without ever seeing it.
VtTigers was a friend. I can't go back and look at pictures from back in the old days (there aren't any), or attend his funeral (I don't know where it is), or grieve with his family (I've never met them). But I will mourn his loss all the same. I'll remember his inquisitive posts, his kindness through his messages, and the contributions he brought to our community.
I will question why he had to be taken from us at such a young age with so much left to do, and why more wasn't done to prevent such a tragedy from happening.
But most of all, I will be sad.
Last Monday, I lost a friend. And the world lost a great human being. I know that for a fact. Even if I never got to shake his hand.
R.I.P. Vt. We'll miss ya.