I have friends I've never seen -- isn't that a quote from an old Neil Young song? Anyway, it's true. I have friends who's hands remain unshaken, faces unsmiled-at, voices unheard, but they are friends anyway, existing as they do as constructs in my head based on words I've seen on a computer screen.
If I can feel affection, interest, even worry and love for a character in a book, why not for someone I know online? I just have to remember that, just like characters in a book, the people I know online are not required to respond to my emotions, nor are they responsible for my reactions concerning them.
All this circles back to one of those online friends, someone for whom I feel such a great affection and such an aching pain for his suffering -- and he clings hard to his suffering, as if it is what makes him. Oh, he's had plenty to suffer about, and he's so intelligent and so talented that he can suffer creatively. Unfortunately, he's so very proficient at it that he knows no other way and so produces, on a regular basis, things about which he can suffer. I'm not talking just depression or grief or sadness or malaise or generall pissed-offed-ness. I'm talking suffering, practically in the Christian sense, soul seering, body breaking misery.
I say he clings to it because...well, he accepts it as unsolvable, incurable, untreatable, unrelenting, cosmic. I may not have a world wide intellect, but I know that suffering is a choice. Many people are afflicted, but do not suffer -- they do not live inside their misery and explore every aspect of it, nor wear it as a defining characteristic, nor build their whole lives around maintaining and abetting whatever impinges upon their lives.
I say it because he will not hear anything that contradicts his acceptance of his suffering or his interpretation of its endless nature. It is as if, were he to climb from his pit of pain, if he were to find some thing that lessened it, some part of him would be extinguished and there would be nothing to take its place. I can imagine that kind of fear readily.
Part of me kicks me and says I have nothing on which to judge him, and that's right, because I cannot judge. I am not a judge, and I am not saying he is wrong or right, for it is neither my job nor my special power. What I am saying, and thinking, is that he holds to his pain as if he has nothing else, and when I look at him I see other things that he has but they are not embraced, and he says he would be free of his suffering but knows not how to heal, and I hurt with him and wish I had an answer to give him. What I know is that I cannot give him any answer, or any surcease, or even a moment's respite. If I could, he would refuse it.
Nevertheless, this invisible friend, whom I hold somewhat distant for my own protection, suffers. It is quite real, what he goes through. I hold him at a distance because it is my nature to take on the pain of those I love, will I or not. I am not strong enough to bear it unacknowledged (which he cannot), nor am I brave enough to feel it without hope of comfort. I have only one defence, that that is distance. I prefer not to suffer, nor to remember suffering past. I can't carry that much on my back. It's hard enough knowing there is baggage on me I haven't managed to drop yet, trailing behind me on thick chains, my own work to do, my own beam in my own eye.
But I love him, as I have from the first I read of him and about him and from him, and think of him anyway, despite his disdain for my feeling, despite his complete lack of need for me to care or not care. Neither of us are prepared to acknowledge anything other than casual acquantaince. And he does not need me in any way. I have nothing to offer him. He is as a fictional character, despite having body and mind and soul, and I do well to keep that in mind. I just hope that the next chapter I read will have something better in it for him. I wish that and hope that very much.