I first started corresponding with Steve Gilliard in January of 2005 when he was embroiled in a battle with Jonah Goldberg over the Armstrong Williams kerfuffle. I don't remember what it was that triggered the conversation (I probably read this and laughed my ass off and wanted to let him know) but we became friends. Steve eventually became a contributor to FDL, and his interest in military history always made him someone I looked to for this thoughts about Iraq. His passion, his take-no-prisoners attitude and his willingness to tell you exactly what he thought (whether you wanted to hear it or not) made him a wondereful and valued friend.
I finally met Steve in person last September. I had traveled to New York for the Bill Clinton meeting and wanted to take the opportunity to come in a few days early and hook up with some people I hadn't had the chance to meet before. I was staying in Connecticut and I let Steve know I wanted to drive down and see him in New York. I remember how touched he was that anyone would go to that effort just to hang out with him. Considering how fierce his online persona was, it surprised me that he would be so moved by a gesture that seemed to me so obvious.
I was talking to Digby the other day and we were discussing how the friendships we'd made in the blogosphere were some of the fastest and closest of our lives. That blog years are like dog years and that when you come together with people of like mind and shared experience who have the same passion and commitment to social justice and the free exchange of ideas that you do, intimacy seems to build up very quickly and as I found myself on the streets of Manhattan that day that experience repeated itself with Steve. The conversation just flowed out of all the shared landmarks of the demimonde we both spent way too much time in, but it was obvious that Steve was the brighter of the two of us. An inveterate reader, he carried an enormous backpack filled with books and couldn't fathom that I was trying to negotiate New York City in a rental car. We spent the afternoon together eating antipasto and shellfish, wandering the streets looking for WiFi, drinking coffee and gabbing.
It was a crisp blue day, the five year anniversary of 9/11 and it made Steve extremely somber. He was very much affected by the experience of 9/11 and resented those who wanted to appropriate it for their own purposes, and didn't think that anyone who wasn't there that day could ever understand what it was like to have their whole existence shaken in such a profound way. Like many New Yorkers, he felt quite proprietary about that day and it very much shaped who he was and fueled his passion for blogging. He'd spent most of the morning grumbling online at those he felt could not possibly know what they were talking about.
Steve was unique, and it struck me as odd how someone could be such a pragmatist and a purist at the same time. He was eloquent, fierce, irascible, passionate, brilliant and brave. And I'll just shut up now before I let the cat out of the bag and tell everyone how gentle and caring he came across in person. He'd no doubt be furious with me for blowing his cover.
Eventually I had to get back to Connecticut and the last time I saw Steve he was walking away carrying that backpack, off to lay his hands on another military history book he hadn't been able to locate. I offered to drive him but Steve, being the consummate New Yorker, looked at me like I was insane and walked off into the chaos of the city that somehow seemed to center him.
I remember walking to my car and thinking that when I'd started blogging Steve had been one of the titans of the blogosphere, and how lucky I felt to have had the opportunity to meet one of my heroes in person and spend time with him. He inspired much of what came to define FDL, especially in the fearless tone and use of images (that was a page straight out of Gilliard). Wish I'd been able to tell him that in a way that he could have heard though I'm not sure it would have been possible. For all his online bravado he seemed to me an extremely modest man.
Love you, Steve. Missing you terribly already.