Jack, Death, and What I’ve Learned

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.

 

 

 

 

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RIP Alan Rickman: Mourning in the Age of Social Media

Yesterday was one of those days that I wanted to end before it even began. Opening my eyes, I instinctively rolled over, grabbed my phone, and looked to see if I had any breaking news notifications. After skimming the numerous headlines on my lock screen, I decided it was in my best interest to roll over, go back to sleep, and hope it was all just a dream.

Alas, when I woke up, a brief 20 minutes later, I was dismayed to find out that what I had read earlier was not just a dream as I had hoped, but was in fact real. There are a few things you don’t want to read when you wake up: first, is that you did not win the Powerball Jackpot. Second, is that there was a terror attack in Jakarta, because even though it’s become almost commonplace in our world today, you still feel pain for all of those affected. Thirdly, you don’t want to find out that one of your favorite actors while growing up, Alan Rickman, died.

It’s this third event that I want to focus on for two reasons: firstly, I wasn’t expecting to win the lottery, so I didn’t even waste money buying a ticket. Secondly, it’s easier to make sense of a single death than it is to make sense of multiple deaths. I haven’t yet been able to make sense with what is going on in this world.

So, I mourn Alan Rickman, while also talking about him.

I know him best as Professor Severus Snape from ­Harry Potter. He’s the actor who brought the not-so-good, not-so-bad, morally ambiguous character to life. You can read a story so many times and still not fully understand a character. Such was the case with Snape. I didn’t love him, didn’t hate him, wasn’t quite sure how to feel about him.

And then I watched the movies. And BAM! Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Snape caused my eyes to open. I understood the character in a way I didn’t before. I understood why he did what he did. He did right things for the right reasons, right things for the wrong reasons, wrong things for the right reasons, and wrong things for the wrong reasons. I understood his actions, but I couldn’t justify them.

Which was ok, because I was still sad when (SPOILER ALERT) Snape died.

I’m even sadder now that Alan Rickman died.

Death is a private event, reserved for a party of one, but sometimes witnessed by family and close friends. Death is intimate. Mourning is public, a collective experience. Especially in the case of a beloved celebrity like Rickman. When a celebrity dies, the earth seems to stand still, like a pillar in the community has died.

The earth stands still, and people begin remembering. All my social media newsfeeds were filled with tributes to Alan Rickman. Twitter and Tumblr were perhaps the most personal, with users sharing how Rickman’s characters got them through a tough time in their life, sharing quotes of Rickman’s that mean a lot to them, sharing stories of interactions they had with Rickman by chance. Celebrities, too, got in on the collective remembrance. Those who worked with him sharing personal anecdotal memories of what it was like to work with Rickman: how funny he was, how truly he cared about the characters he portrayed, how he impacted the lives of his costars.

This sharing of memories is not just reserved for celebrities. I’ve seen it happen at funerals. When my grandfather died almost ten years ago, I distinctly remember a portion of the service reserved for neighbors and friends to share stories about him, stories I wouldn’t have heard otherwise, stories that made my grandfather a full-fledged person, and not just a person with a title: he became a man with a name, in possession of a whole identity other than “Grandfather.”

I’ve become more aware of this with my remaining grandparents, gathering stories about them from anyone who knew them when they were younger.

With celebrities, I don’t’ have that luxury—we don’t have that luxury. We don’t have the luxury of hearing stories first-hand. All we have are the roles they filled.

So we gather stories and memories anyway we can, from whoever we can—memories and anecdotes of how their roles impacted lives, but perhaps, most importantly, who the celebrity was as a person.

It’s easy to place celebrities on pedestals, forgetting they are real people with real lives, real families, real friends. We strip them of their humanity, judge them solely based on their artistry.

Collective mourning as a group, over the internet, allows family, friends, and fans to combine artistry with humanity, creating a whole person.

We forget that people aren’t immortal, sometimes we hope that our favorite people are immortal because dealing with death is difficult. Death is easy; it’s the mourning that’s painful.

I’ve found mourning to be easier when stories are shared. Perhaps Rickman himself said it best, “. . . it’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from, and what might be possible. Or, what’s impossible?. . .”

We tell stories to keep memories alive.

We told them yesterday; we told them today; we’ll probably keep telling them for a while.

And that’s ok.

The people who knew him best—his friends and family—have stories and memories.

We, the fans, have the characters he left behind, the memories of what they brought us through. We read books and watch movies to temporarily forget what we’re going through, to be transported somewhere else.

So, let us mourn.

We’re not only mourning Alan Rickman, the man. We’re also mourning for the characters he left behind: Hans Gruber, Colonel Brandon, the husband who bought the necklace, Severus Snape, and whoever else he had been. We mourn for the characters he never will be.

And I think there’s beauty in the way Alan Rickman was different things to different people, and how, despite the varying degrees of intimacy we may have had with him—whether personally, emotionally, or artistically—all of us are mourning at the same time.

“The pain we all feel at this dreadful loss reminds me, reminds us, that while we may come from different places and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one.”-Albus Dumbledore

(Not) Enough

I’ve been a Christian for as long as I can remember, but somewhere along the way, I think I was taught something wrong. And I know it’s not just me because other people my age who I’ve talked to believe the same thing I did: if you’re a Christian, you won’t suffer.

So, basically you’re telling me that if I do suffer, I’m not a strong enough Christian.

You’re writing off my sexual assault, battle with depression, and my eating disorder as nothing more than a lack of faith. Let me tell you about my faith and how I would get up every day praying that the floor would hold firm beneath my feet. I had faith that I would make it through the day, that the weight of the world would be light enough that I wouldn’t collapse under the pressure of it all.

So don’t tell me I’m not a strong enough Christian because I’ve suffered.

I have told myself I’m not enough enough times on my own.

Not pretty enough.

Not smart enough.

Not good enough.

Not worthy enough.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say Christians will be free from suffering. In fact, the Bible explicitly states that those who believe in Jesus will suffer greatly, which should come as a surprise to approximately no one.

I mean, if you think about it, Jesus went through the Ultimate Suffer for us.

The Bible says a lot of things about a lot of things, but saying that Christians won’t suffer is not one of them.

One thing I’ve learned as an English major is that context is important. When analyzing a work, we all have our own interpretations, but we can’t forget the historical context of the work. Where it was written and when it was written are the only true ways to know why it was written.

My story is the same way. I have a story, but it’s only a smaller part of a larger story. It is this larger story that is the most important; and it’s determining where I fit, how my story fits into the larger story, that I am focusing on.

How can you tell me, then, that my suffering is because I’m not enough?

I know I’m enough because of what I’ve been through and how my story has impacted others. My story transcends language barriers because when I went to Guatemala, I was able to lead a young girl to Christ because I was brave enough to share my story.

Brave Enough.

I graduate from college in 9 or 10 days, depending on how you want to count, and I don’t really have any concrete plans yet.

I have all these big plans for my life, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever accomplish even half of them. And I’ve come to learn to be ok with that. I’ve learned that my life really isn’t my own. Yes, I’m living it, but it is a gift, on loan from the ONE who knows the end of this script.

Time is a weird, mind-boggling concept, and I don’t know how much time my life has been given.

5 years ago, I thought I was out of time, but God decided my story wasn’t finished, my job wasn’t done. I can’t pretend to know the inner workings of God’s mind, so I don’t know why I was called back.

All I know is that God decided I wasn’t done yet, and I have to be ok with that, despite knowing many people who aren’t given second chances.

Just because God has a plan for my life that doesn’t mean my suffering ends.

And no, suffering wasn’t part of the Plan at the beginning, but sometimes plans change. And the plan for humanity changed after the whole incident with Adam, Eve, and the devilish serpent.

The greatest downfall of man happened because of something the Greek Tragedy writers refer to as Hubris: excessive pride.

The pride of the first two people on earth doomed them and the rest of the human race to a life of suffering.

Suffering is hard to understand in the moment, but after the rubble begins to clear, you start to understand how strong you are.

I’ve started to understand how strong I am.

I’ve been sexually assaulted.

I’ve battled depression.

I attempted suicide.

I self-harmed.

I fought an eating disorder.

And I’m a stronger Christian now than I was before because through it all, God never left my side.

Because I am enough.

Eulogy for my Grandfather–9 years late

I remember where I was when I heard the news: I had just gotten home from a night at Youth Group, after a long afternoon of “Annie” rehersals. My parents sat the three of us down on their bed, and my Dad said, with tears in his eyes, “Boppa Guy died.”

I felt as though the wind had been knocked out of my lungs; my heart was pounding, and my eyes welled up with tears.

Your death hit me hard. I was in 6th grade, and at that point in my life, I didn’t know what fully death meant even though I had been to more funerals than weddings. Nobody so close to me had ever died before. All the deaths were such and such a person who had been “insert obscure relational title here.”

Your death was the first time somebody died that I had personally touched, whose voice I can remember clearly, whose laugh still rings in my ears. Your death was the first time a physical presence close to me had died.

Nine years later, I have come to understand what death literally means: a final cessation of all physical and mental activity. But nine years later, I have come to my own theories about death through my study of physics and my observations of how people interact with each other.

Yes, death is finite, unless you’re a Christian, in which case, death is temporary. But the finality of death is not important. What is important is what I’ve come to learn.

Physicists have this law called the “Law of Conservation of Energy,” which esentially states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; it just is. The same amount of energy has existed since the universe has been created, and the same amount of energy will exist up until the moment the universe ceases to exist. The energy that exists today is the same energy that existed when George Washington walked this earth; it has just been transferred from one form to another over time: light, potential, kinetic, sound, etc.

This law walks hand-in-hand with my theory about death: a person dies when all of their energy has been transferred to other people (I’m not talking about physical energy that one can obtain from eating food. I’m talking about the energy that makes up the universe, the energy that a person is made up of: personality, beliefs, what some people call an “Aura”). For people who die young, either the have less energy to start out with or they transfer it more quickly. For people who die when they’re 116, they either start out with more energy or they transfer it more slowly over time.

I’ve come to discover that people start to resemble the people they hang out with the most, like how married couples begin to look alike, except my mannerisms begin to resemble the people I hang out with the most. My vocabularly has expanded and reshifted to mirror the vocabulary of the people I know the best. My personality changes depending on the group of people I’m hanging out with. This is the transfer of energy to which I am referring.

I don’t have any direct proof for any of this, of course. It’s all speculation based on observations and physics, but I’d like to believe that it’s true.

If it’s true, we have the potential to affect people generations from now, not just because of the laws we make, the legistlation we pass, how we leave the environment. But we also have the potential to impact people generations from now because of the transfer of energy. Theoretically, the energy you give off, the energy you transfer from one person to another could be vibrating and reverberating in the universe a hundred years from now, or at least, technically, in the gene pool of your descendants.

Physicists have also discovered that there are rays of light called photons that can pass through objects as they are drawn into the ground. I like to believe that all these particles that have bounced off people’s face, travelled through these people, on the way to their final distance (or where ever photons go) have had their paths forever changed because they came in contact with these people. I like to believe that the same photons that came in contact with Jesus have, at some point, come in contact with me, a legacy 2000 years in the making.

I have no proof of any of these, Grandpa. But it’s been nine years since you died, and sometimes the facial expressions my sister makes are expressions I swear I saw you make before. Sometimes I’ll make a joke, and my dad will say, “That was a Boppa Guy joke.” Your energy and the photons that came in contact with you are continuing to make an effort nine years later and will continue to make an impact generations from now.

It’s either physics or genetics, and I’d like to believe it’s a mixture of both. Genetics are powerful because a child can be the spitting image of a great-great-great grandparent they never met. But physics is powerful, too.

It’s the language of the universe, and I take comfort in language. So, I’m taking comfort in this theory about death.

Life is finite, and so is this eulogy. But I don’t know how to end this; I’ve never been good with endings. But I guess I’ll end with this:

Scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy, and they have found it accurate and consistent across space and time. Take comfort in that because God is the creator of space and time, and time is relative. Down here, on Earth, it’s been nine years. But in heaven, it’s been no time at all.

Graveyards and Milkshakes

This afternoon, two of my friends and I walked from Campus to a local coffee shop to buy milkshakes because 1. We’re in College, and we do what we want, and 2. Milkshakes are literally delicious. On our way back to campus, we took a little detour through the neighborhood cemetery. What an incredibly sobering moment it was.

This walk from Campus and back, through the cemetery, on this brisk autumn afternoon did two things for me. First, it helped me clear my mind. It’s been a long past few weeks, and the next few weeks aren’t looking much better. This is my second-to-last semester, and it seems to be a sprint to the finish. There are a million papers I’m in the middle of doing research for, and there’s not enough time to synthesize all this information. But I’m doing my best. Taking the walk this afternoon helped focus my thoughts on what’s really important; it helped focus my thoughts on the One who gives life and takes it away. I wasn’t thinking about school, or what I’m going to do after I graduate. I was focused purely on God, the creator, and all of his splendor. And it was beautiful. And I came back to campus refreshed and ready to work.

Second, I started thinking about my own mortality, not in a morbid way, but in a “What Will My Legacy Be?” sort of way. I started wondering if what I do with my life will really matter 25, 50, or even 100 years from now. I started wondering about the people buried in this cemetery, who they were, what their stories were, how they ended up here, in this cemetery near my college. Because at one point, everybody—from newborns to those who were 100 years old—were alive; they were loved. They were somebody’s mother, father, sister, brother, child, and friend. And one day, I will be just like them. One day, my family will put flowers on my grave on special occasions, like those tombstones from the last 25 years. And one day, they will stop. I will be forgotten, like those 150 year-old tombstones.

On the timeline of the universe, my time on earth is incomputable and small. My finite life can fill the infinity of the universe infinity times. And I have the audacity to be freaking out about my future? Yes. I do. I doubt I’ll ever be one of those important figures in history, those people who are learned about in school 200 years after they died. But that doesn’t mean my legacy isn’t important, because it’s taken me a long time to learn this, but what I have to offer this world is important. I have mass, and I take up space. Therefore, I matter.

People may forget me 150 years from now, but the universe won’t. Physicists have this law, known as the “Law of Conservation and Energy.” It states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, just transferred from one form to another. I may be gone, but my energy is not. I like to believe that people absorb little pieces of energy from those around them. As I get older, I find myself becoming more and more like my parents, and I like to believe that it’s a transfer of energy in the form of personality. And maybe one day, my children will be like me. A transfer of energy from one generation to the next.

Physicists have also discovered that there are rays of light called photons that can pass through objects as they are drawn into the ground. I like to believe that all these particles that have bounced off my face, traveled through me, on their way have had their paths forever changed because they came in contact with me. I like to believe that at one point, the same photons that passed through George Washington have come in contact with me, a touch of legacy 300 years in the making. Energy is neither created nor destroyed.

Energy is given off as heat, and I want people to be warmed by my presence so that even after I’m gone, they’ll feel warmth whenever they think about me. I don’t need to have faith to believe any of this, because scientists have tested these laws over, and over, and over again. They have measured precisely the conservation of energy, and they have found it accurate and consistent across space and time. And I find that comforting. Because 150 years from now, my existence may be forgotten by many people. But the universe will not have forgotten me. My energy will be vibrating and reverberating throughout the universe.

So I walk through graveyards, trying to absorb the energy of those who’ve walked before.

Just Keep Swimming

Disclaimer: this post is a post I’ve been mulling over for a few weeks now. I’ve been trying to figure out the way to treat this subject with the sensitivity it deserves, because yes, I can be open and candid about it, but for some people it’s just not easy. The wounds are too fresh. I’m showing you my cards here. I’m wiping off my poker face. I’m putting it all on the table. This post, like so many others, is about suicide. And I need, no, I want, you guys to know that before you keep reading. Because I understand that some of your wounds are fresh, but I also know that sometimes talking about can speed up the healing process. I also know that sometimes talking about it can make it worse. So, if the latter is the case, stop reading. I don’t want to make your burden heavier than it already is. Make yourself a cup of tea and go to your happy place. If the former is the case, make yourself a cup of tea and read this post. Either way, I want you all to know that you are loved, and there are people out there who understand your pain, who will be willing to help carry your burden.

 

It’s been 4 years, 1 month, and 1 day since I attempted suicide. I survived. Yet, so many others do not.

I’m not going to give you statistics, because if you want to know, you can look up the numbers on your own. I’m not going to give you statistics, because this isn’t speech class where I need numbers to convince my audience to agree with me. It’s not that I don’t have facts, because I do.

Fact: Suicide is a moment.

Fact: Depression is a race.

Fact: Suicide is a moment. A moment when someone decides they are tired of running.

Fact: Depression is a race, and if you stop running for even a second, it catches you.

Fact: Suicide is a moment. A moment when someone decides they are tired of running. In that moment, it doesn’t matter that there are people who love them.

Fact: Depression is a race, and if you stop running for even a second, it catches you. If you stop and rest, it begins to grow on you.

Fact: Suicide is a moment. A moment when someone decides they are tired of running. In that moment, it doesn’t matter that there are people who love them. Because all of sudden, life hits them in the chest, and they realize this sadness will never go away.

Fact: Depression is a race, and if you stop running for even a second, it catches you. If you stop and rest, it begins to grow on you. It’s like a vine that blocks out the sun, a python strangling the joy out of you, and rust that corrodes the bones.

Fact: Suicide is a moment. A moment when someone decides they are tired of running. In that moment, it doesn’t matter that there are people who love them. Because all of a sudden, life hits them in the chest, and they realize this sadness will never go away. And they dare themselves to do it.

Fact: Depression is a race, and if you stop running for even a second, it catches you. If you stop and rest, it begins to grow on you. It’s like a vine that blocks out the sun, a python strangling the joy out of you, and rust that corrodes the bones. And it’s so easy it sit there and let it consume you, because it whispers to you of an eternal sleep.

Fact: Life is made up of moments.

Fact: Life is a race.

When I am up high, I get scared. Because I’m telling myself, I could really do this. I could. But then, when I think these thoughts, I think of how great it would be to fall in love, how great it would be to travel the world. And I return back to normal. But I hold on to the moment and the thought of what it would be like to travel through the air. And I know I’ll probably never take myself up on the dare again, but the memory gives me a comfort that the day is mine to choose. Because the memory of how I felt in that moment when I swallowed those pills is tucked away in my brain like a sour candy stored in my cheek. I don’t like sour candy.

Some people do.

Some people take themselves up on the dare, because they don’t see how life can get any better. And I can understand why, because sometimes I’m tired of running, which is usually 2.5 minutes after I begin, because I have asthma.

Some people take themselves up on the dare, and they leave their families behind. And their families are left picking up the pieces and are trying to make them fit. But like a jigsaw puzzle with a missing piece, it will never be the same.

And we can’t save everybody, but we should certainly try.

Because I know first-hand how devastating a suicide can be. My mother lost a cousin to it, and my dad did too. And they almost lost a daughter.

And in the last year, my high school has lost two graduates to it, and now the families and friends are wondering why.

I don’t know the reason for other people, but I know mine.

And I think society is talking about it more, which is good, but I think people need to better understand that this is a disease. People like me can’t just snap out of it. Because we can recover for a while, but it will inevitably return, so we live our lives in the moment. The future is scary, and it’s not always guaranteed.

Because it’s all too easy to drown in an ocean of tears, and sometimes we forget we can float in salt water.

 

 

Death in a Fandom

I am silently grieving today. You see, there’s this part of me that I keep hidden from people, a part of me that I’ve only let come out and play a few times in public. A part of me that so many people on the other side of my Tumblr Dash understand, but one that not many “real-life people” do.

To put it simply: I am a fangirl. Google defines Fangirl as “A fan, sometimes also called aficionado or supporter, is a person who is enthusiastically devoted to something, such as a band, a sports team or entertainer. Collectively, fans of a particular thing or person constitute its fanbase or fandom.” I belong to many a fandom, and I’ve been known to randomly geek out when I scroll down my Tumblr dash and see a post that pertains to any of my numerous interests.

So, why am I grieving? Was one of my favorite characters killed off? Did Steven Moffat ruin my life? Probably. But, that’s not why.

I’m grieving because one of my favorite actors died last night.

Cory Monteith, best known for his role as Finn Hudson on Glee, died yesterday at the age of 31. I don’t belong to the Glee fandom because it’s a great show, because honestly I can make a list at least 100 items long of what’s wrong with the show. I belong to the Glee fandom because, at least originally, it was about a group of misfits who were trying to figure out where they belong, where they fit, which is all what we really want from life. And this group of misfits strived to be better. Glee addresses topics we don’t talk about in society today because of the social stigma, and they do it so delicately and honestly it hurts.

But, I’m not grieving because the show lost a great actor. I’m not grieving because the fandom will never get their “Finchel” happy ending. I’m grieving because the world lost a great man. Cory was more than an actor; he was a human, just like you and me. He was open and honest about his past, and he used his celebrity status to draw attention to the issue of Substance Abuse, an addiction with which he struggled. He was so open and honest and painfully genuine, and I rooted for him. The whole fandom did.

Surprised is not the right word, because I was surprised when I found out a few years ago he was nearly 30, neither are shock or sadness. And the fact that I can’t find the right word to describe how I feel is a little disconcerting, because I am an English Major.

What I do know is this: this is the first time a celebrity’s died my generation’s grown up with. This is the first time a public figure we’ve admired has died. Michael Jackson does not count, because we didn’t grow up with him. This maybe the first time that a teenager has lost someone they look up to, and it puts everything in perspective: it makes us realize that nobody’s immortal. Everybody will die, friends, family, celebrities. 

I grew up with Glee. It got me through difficult times. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me shake my fists in anger. It made me nod my head in agreement. It made me believe that somewhere out there is a place where I belong, where I can be myself, where I can be accepted for who I am. To that I say, thank you. Thank you for making me believe in myself. Thank you for making me believe that I can be better, that I can succeed. Just… thank you.

And how do we, the fandom, respond? We can’t call in sick because one of our favorite celebrities died. He was one of our “friends” (because he was our friend, in the most general sense of the term), but we can’t go to his funeral. And we certainly can’t let our grief go unvalidated, because then our feels* will take over. Glee changed my life, and if you think I’m not going to cry over the death of one of it’s kindest, brightest stars, you need to learn a thing or two about the inspiration celebrities can be. If you don’t think that I wanted to go back to bed this morning because I was not emotionally ready for this day, you’d be wrong. I wanted to redo this day since I woke up this morning.

And it’s not just the fandom who’s grieving. Because somewhere out there are people who really knew and loved him (like we, the fandom knew and loved him, but they did for real, for real). Yesterday, someone lost a son. Yesterday, someone lost a brother. Yesterday, someone lost their boyfriend. Yesterday, someone lost their idol. Yesterday, someone’s whole world came crashing down.

Yesterday, the world lost an inspirational gem of a man whose Twitter bio reads: “Tall, awkward, canadian, actor, drummer, person,” and who said: “Be yourself. That’s good enough for me.” Yesterday, the world lost a man who inspired us all to be better, to embrace our past, to learn from our mistakes, and to root for the underdog. Yesterday, the world learned that your idol can save your life, but you can’t save theirs.

And I don’t know if I’ll ever be emotionally prepared to watch Glee episodes. I don’t know if the fandom will ever be ok. But what I do know is that the whole fandom is struggling today.

So to my fellow fandom warriors:

I feel ya, bro.

*feels: it’s a known fact that people belonging to a fandom feel things more intensely. The objects of our affection and interests make us explode with all the emotions (hence the term, all the feels).

Letter to My Grandfather

Dear Grandfather,

I should probably start this letter again, because I never called you “Grandfather.” I called you, “Boppa.” But, I am a firm believer deleting when writing is a bad omen. It’s better to keep the bad sentence and work around it, to make the rest of the piece beautiful. It’s symbolism for the past. I can’t change my past, but I can learn from it, and make my life beautiful. I learned symbolism from my other Grandfather (Boppa). And I believe life is full of symbols, which is why my brain speaks in metaphor, and why I write.

Your death was the event that sparked my writing. The first thing I wrote was a song, which was probably mediocre at best, but I know you would have thought it was beautiful. I found the music score when I was looking through my piano music a few days ago. And then I found the lyrics not too long after. You always did enjoy listening to your family make music. When we would come down and visit, I would play the piano. I heard you tell my Grandmother, “Listen to how beautifully I play the piano,” as if in that moment, your fingers were no longer bent from years of battling Rheumatoid Arthritis, and you could do anything—even do something small like play the piano.

I spent years trying to make myself seem smaller. There came a point in my life when I didn’t think I could stand up, because the weight of the world seemed too heavy for my shoulders to carry, and my spine didn’t seem strong enough. There came a point in my life when I forgot what your voice sounded like, but in that moment when my back was so bent that my stomach met my knees in agony, I heard “listen to how beautifully I play the piano,” and my spine became a little bit straighter.

When you died, I was only in 6th grade, so I didn’t really understand, and some days, I still don’t. But I think about death a lot now. I think about my death and how much easier it would be to die, because then I wouldn’t have to spend every day fighting battles I don’t feel equipped for. I think about the future, and how one day, my cousins and I will be the older generations. And when I’m lying in bed, thinking about that, the world seems so vast, because I don’t know how to exist in a world where my Grandparents and Parents don’t. That’s how I know I won’t handle death well.

I don’t handle life well either. There are many days when I’d rather stay in bed than face the day, because I’m too exhausted to fight any battles. I’d rather walk through life with my fists crossed in front of my face ready to protect myself, than to walk through life with hands open, palms up, ready to catch whatever life drops in my lap. But I’m learning that’s no way to live, so I’m working on changing that mindset.

I’m trying to be a member of society, but right now the future seems so intimidating, which is why sometimes I need quiet. In that quiet I hear, “Listen to how beautifully I play the piano.” My spine straightens up, because I can do anything.

You taught me what true strength is. You taught me with the right attitude, anything is possible.

I can do anything.

I’ve never been good at endings, in life and in my writing, which is why it’s been so hard for me to move on. But here goes nothing. 

I love you. I miss you. I hope Heaven is treating you well. I hope your sense of humor is being put to good use, because if you and God are not telling each other jokes, then I’m disappointed.

I’ll see you someday, but until then, I’ll be listening for your voice.

Human Life

What does it mean to be human, to think, to feel, to breathe? Is it being born with nothing, trying to become something? The first cry, that filling of infant lungs with its first breath, its soft feet and sleeping breaths are the beginnings. It is a mother’s tears and a father’s steady hand. It’s the moment that a child takes its first step, and the moments that it falls to the earth. It’s the scars, a nightmare, and the first fresh reality of dreaming. It’s being there, simply being there when someone needs you. It’s the meaning contained within music, the hope after a rain. It’s the first step to breaking boundaries between people, to seeing beyond skin and tongue and bone, to seeing within. It’s the giving of good ideas, good thoughts, and the modest reception of another’s kindness. It’s the smile in a stranger’s eyes as they watch life unfold, in the way couples who have been together forever become one. It’s the sound of violins in the summer, and the patience to listen to their song tell a story. It’s taking baths in the running currents of a river, running colored pencils on fresh paper, and writing your soul on a cloud. It’s learning to make a mess, clean it up, and then learning how to make messier messes. It’s the moment when the seasons change, and you do too. It’s in the way that trees learn to let go of their leaves as they swirl around like helicopters. It’s in the work of the small ants that carry mountains on their backs. It’s the beauty of a sunrise, painting the sky with all the colors of the wind. It’s yearning for the moon, letting it guide you back home again. It’s the joy in learning to write, in writing letters, and then mailing them. It’s the company of other people, and being other people’s company. It’s in the happiness of food. It’s in clean water, clean air, and a place to sleep, but not all humans have that luxury. It’s the first death, and the next. It’s the never-ending cycle of one birth and one death. It’s the desire to leave something behind, and the desire to take something with you. It’s leaving with nothing when you were once something.

I’m a human, and I’ve lived for 18 years. I was born to two people who were strangers when they first met, but fell in love with time. I have walked on the earth, and I have tasted it. I have dangled my legs into a rushing river, and I’ve touched creation. In the beginning, I couldn’t say words, and now that I can, I sometimes still don’t. But in the beginning, I made sounds. When I grew old enough to walk, I learned to hide away from everything. Music and writing became my confidantes. I would be loudest when no one was listening (the same is true now).  My hair has changed. I have told lies, and I have been told lies. I want to save other people. I have wanted to travel and see the world, but for now I am content with searching for pictures. My mother taught me that life is what you make of it. My father taught me not to take life too seriously. My grandfather taught me that hard work is important, and so is school. My grandmother taught me how to cook. My aunts taught me how to read. Words have been the lifeblood and spark that have kept my heart beating. I can read a book in a day, and then thirst for more. I tell myself not to fall in love with fictional characters, and then I do anyway. My books and my notepads filled with stories are my treasures. I have been aware of how words can pull people all my life. When they’re thrown like sharp knives, people get hurt. How words can make people laugh with their whole being. I have lived 18 years, and I’ve seen death before.

Watching the Sky at 2 am

In 18 years, I’ve experienced more death than births; I’ve been to more funerals than weddings.

The first time I broke down, I was caught by a boy with green eyes who made my world go round; the thirtieth time I fell, he was no longer there to soften my fall.

Love is a painful thing: it takes a smooth, beating heart and leaves it broken, bleeding, and jagged for the next person to cut themselves on.

I have written more stories than letters, but all of my stories are letters in their own right—addressed to the wrong person, so the right one will never read them.

I’ve realized that it is better to leave over time than to do so suddenly—to burn out slowly than to be extinguished by a gust of wind; however, I’ve set myself on fire, trying to ignite the sky on my skin, trying to burn myself all at once, trying to erase the memories that are on replay in my mind. But the sparks don’t catch, and I don’t turn to ash; I just become more fire resistant over time.

Every time I begin to fall in love, I’m left out in the cold; love is a difficult thing: sometimes the hearts don’t connect because of missed glances, missed chances. These are the moments when I wonder what it would feel like to be inside someone else’s chest, to be the beating organ that is keeping them alive; I learned that broken hearts don’t mean broken spirits: crumbling walls and leaking ceilings can be fixed, scars will heal over time.

The wind knows all my secrets, and you can too if you just listen.

I’ve learned that promises are only as strong as the person who tells them, which is why I’m trying to be stronger— I’ve been weak for far too long.

I fall too far too fast, because my head is always in the clouds; my knees are permanently skinned from plummeting down to earth when reality hits me in the chest and tells me you’re not coming back.

I love to read, because everybody has a story; and I’ve thrown caution to the wind, hurling mine into the ocean as I watch you swim out to rescue it.

No matter how far I get from the shore, there will always be sand beneath my feet.

I dance in the rain because I don’t feel as lonely as I’m being kissed from heaven.

Autumn is beautiful, because the trees lose themselves and find themselves again in the spring. Pain has a way of doing the same thing, which is why the scars on my skin trickle through my writing, because that’s what I know.

I turn in my bed like the last page of a book, but there’s nothing to stop me from falling except myself.

I watch the moon and stars at 2 am wondering if you can see them from where you are; and when I see a shooting star, I wish that you were here with me.

Love is more than falling in love; it’s about falling out of love. It’s about losing someone you once held dear—a friend, a significant other, a family member.

I love you.

I adore you.

I miss you.