One of my classmates died this week.
I’m still trying to figure out how to process this sudden, heart-wrenching loss. It’s hit me pretty hard—harder than I thought it would because we weren’t particularly close. Once upon a time, sure; maybe in Elementary school–when there are approximately 35 kids in your fifth grade class, everybody tends to be at least semi-friends with everybody else. And then Middle School happens, and suddenly you are introduced to 400-and-something other kids your age, and the relationships between the original 35 become weaker and weaker because there are new people, new relationships. So the semi-friendship between him and I became non-existent.
But then High school happened. And I began to see more of him because we were in the same classes. Our “once-weres” became our “are nows.”
From Kindergarten to BC Calc our Senior Year of High School, I knew him. For thirteen years of schooling, plus the four years since: seventeen years he’s been somebody that’s orbited around the edge of my world.
So, no, we weren’t close. But, I guess when you’ve known someone for seventeen years of your life, losing that someone can be painful.
That someone’s name is Jack. And let me tell you, he was one of the smartest, yet, most humble people I’ve ever known.
Even in Kindergarten, I knew he was probably one of, if not, THE, smartest person in the class. He was the pudgy kid with glasses, with a big brain and an insatiable hunger for knowledge. He asked all the right questions, and never made any one feel stupid for not knowing something. He helped those who needed help, and he worked with those who didn’t need help. And it was always a race to see if anyone could finish their classwork before Jack did. When you did, you felt like the second smartest person in the room. (I don’t know if he ever knew people raced him to complete their work, but I like to imagine he did, and that maybe he sometimes let people win—that’s the kind of person he was.)
And as he matured, he grew into his pudge, but his big brain and insatiable hunger never disappeared. I remember so many classes in High school where he would get into mini debates with teachers about themes in the books we were reading in English, the ethics of an idea in Economics, what really caused an event in History, or even the best way to solve a problem in Calculus.
Speaking of calculus, he was probably the biggest reason I passed that class because when I would tell him I didn’t understand a problem, he would explain it to me in a simpler way.
He pushed everybody around him to be better, to work harder, to never grow tired of learning. He was always good for a laugh, a witty comment, encouragement, and a simpler explanation.
He was the most intellectually curious person I’ve ever meet. And everybody knew he was going to do great things with his life, and he did. He did so many wonderful things in the time he was here on earth.
It’s painful to know that there are so many things he’ll never get to accomplish, and my world’s been a little bit darker these last few days, as are so many other worlds as well I am sure. But in the midst of this darkness, there’s been some light. My Facebook has been flooded with tributes to Jack by so many people who knew him: family, high school classmates, college classmates, people he’d met along the way. And it’s been amazing to see that the Jack to one person was the same Jack to another person; despite the relationship, he treated everybody the same way. The people who knew him better than I have so many of the same thoughts about him. He was so true to himself. He was humble. He made sure others were encouraged in difficult time. He helped others understand difficult things.
Death is difficult to understand.
Death is cruel because the world keeps on spinning even in the midst of tragedy. In a heartbeat, so many people’s lives are changed, but the world doesn’t stop. Death is cruel because it’s universal. It happens to everybody, and it’s not fair.
Grief has this way of making us nostalgic for memories we thought we had forgotten. It has a way of making us nostalgic for the people and places of our past.
When I heard the news, I went back through all my old Elementary school yearbooks, reminiscing on the good times and the bad times, wanting so much to relive—in a way—what once was, wondering what the relationships of the original 35 would be like now if our lives had played out differently.
But grief also has a way of making us nostalgic for the future. It has this way of making us do things differently—how am I going to live now that this has occurred? Am I going to live life differently? Can I do it long-term?
I don’t know any of the answers to so many questions. But I’m going to keep asking them anyway.
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that questions are the way to learn more about this world.
I think we all have to ask more questions like Jack did because the only way to change the world is by learning about it.
The only way we can change our lives is by dreaming big and following our dreams.
Jack followed his dreams. He would want everybody (even those he didn’t know) to follow theirs.