Posted by: Kate | April 28, 2010

From Pixels to Wool to Happy Tears

It’s not an unusual conversation; we’re not unique.  I know of many other people – couples, family members, acquaintances, strangers – who have had the same talk, likely with the same ambivalent, unresolved sort of ending.  The topic: Can you call someone a friend when you’ve never met them face-to-face?  Can these strangers on a message board, these random groups of pixels gathered in the Comments section of my blog, really be considered friends in any sense of the word?  Can I really derive serious entertainment, important interactions, emotional support, from these people?

My response?

Hell, yes.

I’ve had some level of online social life for, oh, 18 or 19 years, by this point, with a noticeable increase when I was on bed rest during my pregnancy with Jacob. I sat alone in my bedroom, stuck in place by doctor’s orders and by the limitations of the pre-wireless days, and desperately reached out for proof that I could carry this pregnancy to term. I needed success stories, and I needed facts and figures, and I needed hand-holding.

I won’t debate that there is something special about having time in the same room with a friend; that a conversation over lunch is usually more satisfying than a chat on Gmail. But geography is a beastly thing, and it makes sharing oxygen difficult, if not impossible, with many of the people whose personalities are most well-suited to your own. Who are more able to offer comfort and encouragement with a handful of typed characters than a lifelong family member can give with a hug and an hour’s worth of words.

I’ve known this for a long time, and have endured Willem’s quiet-but-reserved acceptance of my time online. He didn’t openly doubt me when I tried to explain how important some of these relationships were to me, but he also wasn’t fully convinced. And I get that: how can you possibly rely more heavily on someone you’ve never met than, say, on someone with whom you had spent years living next to in college? I think he felt that his college friendships, while tending to be on the quiet and un-nurtured side most of the time, would rise up and be there for him in times of need, and that my online friendships, which had taken so much of my energy and attention over the years, would prove to be a waste of time if a crisis hit and I needed support in real life.

You know where this is going, right?

Because when I got sick, we were simply flooded with support, in all forms, from all over the globe. For the first time, we both realized how much it meant just to get a simple text message or email, or a card in the mail; not to mention the gifts, running the gamut from cash to care packages to prepared dinners. These were things we usually – but certainly not always, because of our simple ignorance of their significance – remembered and bothered to send when someone we knew was ill, and always with an open heart and genuine well wishes, but never knowing that the smallest thing could alter the tone of an entire day.

And so, so many of these gifts came from people I couldn’t pick out of a lineup; from online friends who would qualify as strangers if we were both in the same checkout line at the grocery store. But they cared, so they bothered, and it mattered. (And, sorry guys, but so, so few of these efforts were made by Willem’s fraternity buddies, the brothers for life… only they were more prone to sit back and wait to be asked for help, “because we didn’t want to push and we thought Willem needed space,” as one gentleman explained to me.  Which is valid and I don’t want to pass judgment on a set of relationships I’ll never understand, not being one of the brotherhood myself. But my experience was that none of the notes or offers of sympathy, support or help that we received ever felt intrusive or inappropriate.)

I had already been bowled away by the generosity and thoughtfulness of our family and friends through this whole ordeal, and had started writing thank-you notes. I was appreciating the fact that the flood of cards and phone calls and packages had ebbed, because that meant that the immediate crisis had passed and we were settling back into some form of normal. Then I got one more box, unceremoniously dumped on the front doorstep by a mailman ignorant of the miracle he was delivering. Even if he had known what was in it, he might just have shrugged and moved on: it was just a blanket, after all. Knitted in all of my favorite colors, reminiscent of stained glass or sea glass. Pretty enough, sure, but everybody has blankets, right? What’s special about this one?


What’s special is, each square was knitted and sent to one talented crocheter, who arranged and pieced them all together, took the time to attach tags so that I could identify the artists, and mailed it all to me. Each was knitted in support of me and my family; a tangible effort to show the love and concern they had for us. They started when I was still in the hospital and my future was so dreadfully uncertain, and they couldn’t know what shape I would be in when I had the blanket in-hand. I ended up beating it home, a fact which doesn’t seem to have disappointed anyone, and was able to share its opening with Willem and my mother.

So, yeah, online relationships are real, true, honest, genuine, valid relationships, and my recent struggles have only proven so with more strength and certainty. And I am unspeakably grateful for my friends, no matter how I know them.



  1. I know you just posted this to try to get me to cry, didn’t you?

    Love you Kate!

  2. It’s beautiful. Thanks for sharing. Love you.

  3. oh kate! I wish i’d participated in the blanket project. It’s beautiful. and making me misty-eyed. hugs to you. May you continue with your speedy recovery. 🙂

  4. Wow. That’s amazing! I just wanted to pass along that I have had you and your family in my thoughts and have been following your blog posts. I’m so happy that you are starting to feel some normalcy again in your life. You’re blessings are numerous 🙂

  5. a beautiful gift for a beautiful family…some very talented friends you got there.

  6. This. This right here is why I will forever love that board. They are an amazing group of people.

  7. Kate. How lovely that someone went to the trouble. My husband also doesn’t understand the internet friend thing either. I love your blog and have been reading for about 2 years maybe a bit more now. Still thinking of you and praying for your continued recovery.

  8. That’s beautiful! And-I’ll be making Curtis read this soon. Hopefully it will help him understand my online friends a bit better too.

  9. You’re such an amazing person, Kate. I’m so glad to know you from here and Facebook. I’ll never forget how kind you were to me when I needed it even though we’d never met face-to-face.

  10. You are such a lovely writer. You do the blanket with the honor and appreciation it and it’s makers deserve. AWESOME!!!

  11. Kate, I really, really wanted to knit an afghan for your blankie, but I was plowed under with taking care of my own newborn and recovering from being gutted and infected my own self! However, I was following along with the progress of it and am so, so happy it reached the people who so richly deserved it. It’s so much more beautiful than I imagined.

    And on that note, I do have pressies to send you for your little one…I haven’t forgotten you at all, not by a long shot.

    Here’s hoping and praying for your continued recovery. Are you allowed to have booze yet? 🙂

  12. So beautiful, and M. did an amazing job of the layout, too.

    Lots of prayers in that blanket. BTW, I mentioned your blog to a friend of mine who should start her own, partially because I’ve always loved your writing, partially as you’ve always been forthright but sensitive, and partially because I love the WordPress template as opposed to some of the others. She sends on her best wishes. We haven’t forgotten about you here, either!

  13. Oh, my lord, how beautiful. In every possible way. Just… beautiful.

  14. A beautiful story which will resonate with so many of us on-line.

    Beautiful photograph too.

  15. What a beautiful gift.

    And please send me your address. I have a knitted giftie for your beautiful baby.

  16. Beautiul, both in sentiment and in craftsmanship!

  17. Beautiful!

    And FWIW, I fully intended to knit a square – bought yarn and cast on and everything – but something about a teeny newborn takes away all your knitting time.

  18. Thanks for taking the time to write about and post pictures of the blanket in your home! I can’t express to you how desperate we all felt to do SOMETHING to help! It’s just wonderful that you beat it home – a miracle. I feel like the vibes and prayers in the blanket, even though it wasn’t with you yet, were part of the miracle.

  19. That blanket is GORGEOUS! I mean, it’s beautiful all by itself, but to know how much time and love all of its contributors put into it is even more meaningfu. I love it. I know you know you’re loved, but I hope this ordeal has given you a glimpse of just how much we love you … even those of us who’ve never met you in real life. Thanks for sharing these photos!

  20. I’m neither a knitter nor a crochet-er, but I do hope you know how much I care about you and prayed for your recovery. As for this incredible, beautiful gift? You reap what you sow, friend.

    Big hugs (making sure not to squeeze too tight, of course)!


  21. I couldn’t say it better than knitorious drivel. It held us together whilst we were pacing around the world to know you were being held together. Lots of love to you Kate – you sustain us too. xx

  22. wow that is so beautiful!!

  23. When you were in the hospital, and we didnt know what the outcome would be, I ached for you and your family. My thoughts were on you constantly, because you ARE my friend. A true friend, one I care about just as much as the friends I see in person. I love you, your spirit is amazing, and your soul sparkles! You deserve that gorgeous blanket, and everything that is good in the world. Sometimes I wonder why things happen the way they do, we dont always understand God’s plan, but I know I was meant to know you, and for that I am thankful. (I wish so much I could knit, if I could one of those squares would be from me! How good are you at pretending???) Take care Kate, you know where to find me if you need me, or anything at all. All my love, Kelly

  24. I completely agree that ‘online’ friends count as ‘real’ friends. Even though many of us speak to each other in a very personal way, the brain still senses the distance – hence, many people are able to be more open & honest online than in person. I found this out when my father passed away from cancer last November. A handful of ‘real-life’ friends knew just how deeply I was affected by his death. I couldn’t bring myself to talk to most people face-to-face about it because I was so worried that they would be annoyed at how often I stopped to cry. Posting online – I could take a break from telling my tale and come back when I had composed myself.

    I’m so glad that you’re progressing as well and as quickly as you are.

    Take care of yourself!

  25. I remember vividly being surprised, back in March, at just how upset and worried I was about you, someone I had never met.

    I’m not a person who has ever prayed, nor an optimist, so the best I could do was “think” strength and health and concern in your direction, not even knowing if I believed that could possibly accomplish anything. But it was really important for me to do. Like everyone else, it was so wonderful to be knitting something for you, doing something concrete and tactile.

    It’s such a wonderful feeling to compare those dark days in March with your blog posts now from home with your family!!

  26. It’s really lovely, Kate. Makes me once again wish I had the patience to knit – it would have been something to do while worrying…

  27. BEAUTIFUL just like you. online friends are a real bond and real friendship. And I am so glad to call you my friend. and some day we will meet. Take care and continue to get better.

  28. It looks beautiful. I’m so glad you got home before we finished. You are an amazing woman Kate.

  29. Ooh, so pretty! And I had a few happy tears myself reading this…

  30. so beautiful!!

  31. I just read you story from a link at the AS website. I am so glad you survived this terrible disease. I don’t know you but wanted to cry reading about your pain.

    I became interested in the disease when a friend of mine had it in his leg and started reading about it on internet. This was a few years ago and I still go back to this website from time to time

    Anyway – I wish you everything thats good and well and pray that your healing path would heal the mental scar as well.

  32. Beautiful!!! You have some very special friends! Hugs!

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