For the past nine years or so, I have been going to this online forum for figure skating. Well, actually it started out much earlier. First, I found a figure skating group on usenet back in the 1990s, when I was still in pharmacy school. Once the worldwide web came to popularity, the same circle of figure skating fans migrated to several online hangouts. At some point, someone clued me in on two largest forums that have remained to this day, and I generally frequent one of the two. I go there off and on for nearly a decade, with stretches of indifference alternating fervent passions. This forum's owner is based in Europe, and many regulars are as well, giving the discussions a European perspective not apparent in North American skating circles.
On any online forum, there are always people with a larger presence than others. They have a more constant and concentrated presence than lurkers and casual visitors. Given the limited size of worldwide skating fans and limited outlets elsewhere, the regulars on the forums have remained surprisingly stable. A few years ago, a Polish young man became one of the big regulars. His posts ranked high in both volume and frequency. He was one of the die-hard skating fans who take obscure skaters and junior-level competitions as seriously as the Olympics. He was passionate about skating and about voicing his opinions --- primarily about but not limited to skating. Smart, articulate, strongly opinionated, passionate. He couldn't help but leave a lot of footprints on the forum.
About a week ago, it was suddenly announced on the forum that this Polish young man had died in an accident. He was just past 30. It was a shock, since he left posts all over the forum only a day or two ago. Many people wrote mourning comments under the announcement, including lurkers who rarely come out of the woods, saying how much they had respected and enjoyed reading his opinions and jokes and snarks. The loss is clearly felt by many people. Two of his friends found their way onto the forum and declared that they had no idea he had so many admirers online. According to the friends, the young man was well loved and popular in real life as well. He was certainly not a loner, despite the substantial time he apparently spent on the skating forum.
Except for three or four local skating fans whom I have met and socialized with in real life, I have always maintained a mental distance with the skating forum. I don't socialize or seek friendship that is solely online. I had no direct connection with any fan on the forum that I have not met in person. Yet, I've been thinking about the Polish young man a lot since the announcement.
I wonder if he knew how much his persona as an uber skating fan had been respected and admired and enjoyed by so many people. I wonder if he had any inkling how acutely his own absence would be felt. I often agreed with his opinions, but said so only occasionally with my trademark restraint and distance. Now I wish I hadn't had so much restraint and had openly praised his passion and insight more often, or just engaged with his discussions more even if I disagreed vehemently --- I think he would have enjoyed it, too. I hope he had known the size of the footprint he had left on other people's minds, but I doubt that.
Does anyone know one's own impression on the world? On people around him or her, close and far? It seems impossible. It is impossible, unless you believe in the afterlife. The thing that struck me is how little we tell each other "I care about you/your opinions." Perhaps we don't even think about it. It feels awkward and gratuitous to discuss our connections of varying degrees. The attachment is only felt acutely upon a loss, when it's too late.
So the inevitable question is, if I were dead now, who would feel a loss? Naturally, some would feel it more strongly than others. I think I have a pretty good idea. I have never thought about my interpersonal relationships in this way. Who will mourn me for the person I am and who will mourn the loss of my usefulness? Who will be empathic enough to feel it and who will be too narcissistic or numb to care?
One of the common traits of neurotics is their obsession of others' opinions of them. "How do they think of me?" is the question that keeps them (us) up at night. Let's be honest. Most everyone cares about other people's opinions of himself to some degree, and those who completely do not give a shit are more likely to be jerks, assholes, and psychopaths. But the balance between caring and obsessing is precarious and potentially problematic.
Perhaps defining one's place in a social context can be approached from one's absence. At least, this way of thinking has immediately crystalized for me my relationships with people I know. Who care about me? Who do I care about? How much? Of course, people differ on the types of relationship they care about. If you are Andy Lau or Jackie Chan, your first loyalty might be to your fans rather than to your wife and children. Nevertheless, this provides a useful framework to sort out the importance and meaning of various relationships --- rather than intimacy alone --- and makes it easier to choose where to invest one's time and emotional energy.
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