My little sister texted me earlier today, April 12, asking: “Did you know” so-and-so.
The past tense of the sentence immediately jumped off the screen.
Sure enough, someone I had gone to school with for the majority of my admittedly short life, someone who I walked at graduation with not even four years ago, had passed away. Hit by a car in the wee hours of the morning. Died in the hospital about 13 hours later. Authorities reporting that “alcohol may have played a role.”
And while it obviously is overwhelmingly tragic, what really strikes me is the profound weirdness of it all.
Honestly, I barely knew him. In middle school, he was obsessed with G-Unit and purchased an obscene number of the group’s sneakers. We were the core of a borderline-unstoppable flag football team in ninth grade gym class. He played Silentball like a man possessed during our weekly rounds in chemistry. That’s about all I’ve got.
Yet I still find myself coming back to the fact that he lived less than a mile down the road from me for most of my adolescence.
When I was in high school two of my peers passed away, both in automobile-related accidents. But I didn’t know either of them personally, so I found myself sort of shrugging it off. Within a sea of about 900 people, it didn’t make all that much of a difference to me.
I realize now how insensitive that was to those around me who were legitimately grieving. And I wish I could go back and get to know those two a little better before they were gone. But this was and is different. This was someone who I had the chance to actually meet, even if not in a particularly personal way. I want there to be a deeper meaning.
So I look at his age and shake my head. No matter who he became in the nearly four years since I’d last spoken to him, 22 years was not long enough on this Earth to see his potential come to fruition. It wasn’t long enough for him to enjoy everything that life had to offer him. It shouldn’t have ended like that.
I look at the reported circumstances and feel disgusted. If it is true – as the proper authorities, medical experts and lawyers will hopefully help us find out – that alcohol indeed “may have played a role,” then I can only feel exasperated that he became one of the 27 people who, on average, die in drunk driving accidents every day in the U.S.
Most of all, I look at those two statements above and think that they’re too simple. Too easy to understand. There has to be something deeper.
But there’s not. Sometimes people die for senseless reasons. We don’t all get the chance to live to be ripe, old folks, nor do we all get to be martyrs. And when things like this happen, underserved and far too premature, most of the world just keeps right on spinning.
Of course, other parts of the world don’t move on quite as easily. I don’t need to check Facebook to know that a lot of people back home are lamenting right now. Some of them probably haven’t talked to him in as long as I have. Some probably knew him even less than I did. But they find themselves questioning the same things I’m asking myself, because we’re all part of the same community working through the same loss.
That sense of community is important, and it’s inescapable. I’ve spent the last four years trying to exorcise my high school life from me. It wasn’t exactly a traumatic time, just something that I’d like to move on from, that I’d like to grow beyond. And I’ve been foolish to think that way, because your high school years don’t hold you back from growing as a person. They give you a bunch of people to emotionally invest in, regardless of the stake. And when tragedies like this happen, you realize with greater clarity just how precious life is.
I’m not the kind of person who gets homesick if I don’t go home once a month. I don’t know if he was. I don’t know what sort of ties he felt to our shared community; but I think I know that about myself. As corny as it may sound, I know that I don’t have to wear affection for my hometown on my sleeve, because I wear it inside me wherever I go.
I recognize now the community I belong to back home, which I joined merely out of proximity, and how much it has molded who I am without me ever having to ask. And I like to think that I belong to a similar community here at Temple. That even amongst the massive student body and hordes of faces I would never recognize, there is some value in having a mutual mother institution.
My thoughts are, first and foremost, with his family as they work through this incredibly difficult time. They are also with the entire community, as we – as a collective unit – try to grasp that one of our own came to such an untimely end.
Zack Scott can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Zack Scott11.