I've been part of an internet community for 8 years now, an X-Files community-- a community that still exists in one form or another for a television show that went off the air 7 years ago! But this community is remarkable in more ways than just still exisiting. People are still meeting each other, traveling to strange places for the first time and meeting an online friend. Friends that have left the show's community remain friends through discussion of real life events.
I've met several of the online friends from the X-Files community, even had several of them come stay at my house. These are real people, with real everyday concerns, with lives that exist outside of their online persona. And they've now crossed the line. They are no longer just "internet friends." We've laughed, and talked well into the night, we've shared meals together and gone to church together. We've hugged, greeting each other at the airport with signs, waved goodbye at airports as they pass through to the other side of security. They have become real life friends.
Recently, I've followed a community that exists in the PugBlog world. Groups of pug owners, yeah, those funny looking little comedian dogs who can grab your heart as quickly as they grab a dropped piece of food, get together for pug meet ups -- people and pups getting together. They provide support, especially when someone is injured or sick (check out Walter the Pug's blog responses http://walterthepug.blogspot.com/), they exchange gifts that sometimes include treats and stuffies.
Finding friendship online isn't so unusual. Keeping it, and having these friends cross that line -- the line that says be careful who you meet, be careful what you wish for, be careful what people will think of you -- is a treasure. To my online friends who became real life friends, thank you for crossing that line. And whether we stay in touch, or drift apart as the years go by, you will always be a friend in my heart, just like the two friends who lived down the block when I was a kid. I only knew their first names, they moved away somewhere and I haven't seen or heard from them since.
Everyone you meet, real or virtual, leaves an impression on you. They help make you. How much more powerful is it when someone takes that leap of faith and crosses the line. In the poem "Ulysses," Tennyson says "I am a part of all that I have met." How many more people have become a part of me since I've found kindred souls online? I can only hope that in some small way, I have touched them as well.