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My heart aches today, as I learned that Charlie Jensen passed away over the weekend. Charlie was a longtime member of one of the online stamp forums I frequent. He was a real character; full of life and stories of his family, his grandchildren, and his adventures as a younger man in the US military.

What shook me the most about Charlie's passing is that he called it a week earlier. His final post on the forum was that he wasn't feeling well and all signs pointed to his end being near at hand. He hoped to make it through Thanksgiving and figured that Christmas was out of the picture for him. So he said his farewells. The next post, Sunday night was from his daughter, letting us know he died.

We never met in person and if I'm honest, I don't know if we corresponded back and forth on the forums much either. He's American, but I couldn't tell you from where in the USA unless I looked it up. But he was on the forums often, and I perked up whenever I saw his avatar.

I have only been able to say a final goodbye to someone twice in my life, and both times it was with a friend that I only knew online. I've never said goodbye to another human except through a keyboard. This troubles me greatly. It makes me question the way we face life and death in my family. How I face life and death.

I am also struck by just how deeply losing an internet friend moves me. Sometimes it's been a person I have spoken to on Zoom; I can see their face and remember their voice. But more often it's been people who I only know via an avatar (not always even a photograph) and letters on a screen. These letters look the same, just sitting there, pixels on a screen, whether they were initiated by Mike, or Pete, or Charlie. But combine them into words and phrases and they come alive. Charlie's posts sound like Charlie and nobody else. Nothing compares to Mike's ideas or Pete's stories.

How is that even possible? How is it that we are so built for connection that we can form these letters and words and sentences into a person? It's magic. It's also humanity.