If you've been online for any amount of time, I'm sure you've felt that too. To follow someone's blog is to live their life vicariously and in real time. And if the writer has enough talent with words and experience, enough wit and humor, it is so, so easy to celebrate their victories and mourn their losses as though they were your own.
A blogger named Heather Sophr lost her little girl on Tuesday. Maddie had been born prematurely and been in and out of the hospital several times, but was basically a happy and healthy 17-month-old. Heather's posts from last week demonstrate that no one suspected anything was wrong -- she wrote about ice cream, about raising funds for her upcoming March of Dimes walk, and about Maddie having a bit of a cold that she'd need, as always, to go see a doctor about. A friend of Heather's made the post Tuesday morning: Maddie's cold had created complications, and she had passed away.
The response has been huge. In less than 48 hours, Heather's March of Dimes fundraiser has jumped (leapt, flown, rocketed like a puppy with roller skates and a jet pack) from a bit over $2,000 to a bit over $20,000. People have been putting up online memorials, making pledges to walk in their local March of Dimes events, and making plans to attend Maddie's funeral in L.A. Most of these people were not family members or friends or even particularly dedicated fans -- Heather's blog readership was strong but modest. She wasn't a superstar, but she had nudged something in people, just enough that those people had maybe told their friends or mothers about this little girl they'd read about -- this slight, sorta awkward baby girl, with smiles and solemnity as intense as only a child can manage, with the biggest, bluest eyes -- that when she died, hundreds upon hundreds of people heard, and remembered, and wanted to do something.
I hear news reports sometimes that make the Internet sound like some kind of cesspool, some den of sin, some dimly lit and dangerous place. And I suppose some parts of the Internet are like that -- some parts of any human community are. But other parts -- more parts than you'll ever have time to explore -- are bright, beautiful, and populated by people who only want to learn, to laugh, and to help where they can. And it does weird me out, this world of hour-long trends, sudden celebrities, and mass followings of niche interests. It's a weird sort of community, and more like magic than anything else I've seen.