Jeremy Sarber

Farewell, @louisvillebobby

Bobby Rhoades

I never met him in person. I spoke to him only once over the phone. But somehow I knew him, and I miss him terribly now that he’s gone.

There was a time when I found it difficult to imagine making real friendships with people I met online. They were little more than avatars. Distant acquaintances. We could talk about the news, the weather, our pets, and maybe an occasional topic of substance. But how strong could a bond become if we’ve never looked each other in the eyes or embraced one another with a hug?

It was Bobby who unintentionally showed me I was wrong.

Six years ago, Bobby entered my digital life. On a random day at a random time, I received a notification that someone calling himself @louisvillebobby had replied to something I said on Twitter. I scanned his tweets and perused his personal blog. He was a kindred spirit, and I told him as much. If nothing else, we shared convictions regarding Christ and our faith. I did not hesitate to click the “Follow” button.

We continued to talk frequently. Our early conversations were not deep. He’d remark on a photo I posted. I’d say “Amen” to something he tweeted. We’d often talk about our dogs whom we loved. He had two dogs, Wrigley and Scout. I’m certain no dogs in this world were ever treated better than them.

On occasion, Bobby would randomly tweet something like, “I’m thankful for my friendship with @jeremysarber.” What had I ever done to warrant such a priceless declaration? Nothing, I’m sure. But I suppose I underestimated the size of Bobby’s heart and the unconditional nature of his love.

Throughout the years, we grew closer. Other friends came and went, but Bobby remained. From time to time, I purged those I followed on Twitter and deleted every blog subscription with one exception. It is not an exaggeration when I say Bobby was always at the top of my whitelist. But I never kept him around out of obligation. I wanted him to be a part of my life, and I wanted to be a part of his.

There is something about Bobby I struggle to capture with words. I’ve tried, writing and rewriting this post over and over again. How do I explain how a man 600 miles from me, a man I’ve never met in the flesh could so profoundly support me, encourage me, and entice me to become a better person? How do I describe his near-miraculous ability to lift my spirits in 140 characters or less? How can the absence of one out of thousands of people I’ve met online create this gaping hole in my heart? How can every thought of this so-called stranger’s death feel like a punch to my stomach and leave me in tears?

Bobby survived several months of chemotherapy in his fight against cancer. During the ordeal, he said, “I am not placing a lot of faith in my doctors, but I am placing all my faith in God. He is the Great Physician.”

For reasons unknown to us, God did not heal him. Rather, Bobby underwent additional rounds of intense chemo. It prompted him to write, “I know that when this is all said and done, [God] will be glorified and I will be healed whether here on this earth or in His presence.”

On November 17, 2015, Bobby went home. He is forever with Christ. He is forever healed. Though I would give almost anything to spend even one day with him in person, I’m thankful to have known him at all.  I’m grateful for what he taught me about God, life, and friendship. Most important, I rejoice to know he will suffer no more. His hope has become his reality as he rests in the presence of our Lord.

Farewell, @louisvillebobby. You will not be forgotten. In a million small ways and perhaps a few big ones, you left this world a better place. You left those who knew you inspired to do the same.

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