The Human Connection

I had never known anyone to be killed before. That is, before last semester.

Earlier this fall, Harvard students got word on campus that Philip V. Streich ‘13 had died on his family’s farm in Wisconsin. Philip was the first person I ever knew from Harvard, as I had met him at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair four years ago. It was shocking to realize that someone so brilliant could be vulnerable to having a bright future cut short.

Then there was the December shooting at a shopping mall just miles away from my house in Oregon. I knew one of the two victims. Steve Forsyth was the stepfather of a childhood friend and an incredibly compassionate guy we are all heartbroken to have lost.

Finally, two days before Christmas, a boy from my high school graduating class, one of the kindest, most genuine people I’ve ever met, died in a car crash. Drake Edwards was just 20 years old when he and his friends were driving home from the mountain and suddenly lost control, swerving into oncoming traffic. He was the only passenger killed.

If tragedy comes in waves, this is one hell of a rip current, unforeseen by all.

This winter break, in addition to family time and Christmas carols, I’ve been spending a great deal of time reflecting on recent events. I haven’t even addressed the massacre in Newtown, which hit families across the America with a profound sadness. I am not going to breach the subjects of mental health or gun control or safe driving—there is a time and place for those topics, and this editorial is not one of them. This is about more than that.

I’ve struggled to extract the meaning from all of this hardship. To find the takeaway message for myself, who felt so inextricably connected to this web of tragedy. It would be easy to look at the lives of these men who died too young and say, “life is short, live while you can,” but this clichéd piece of advice fails to capture the solidarity that followed the heartbreak. More than anything, I am struck by one resounding message.

People are what matters. I suppose I may be biased as an anthropology concentrator, but these jarring reminders of the brevity of our lives have only helped to convince me that, politics, religion, and socioeconomic status aside, it is the connections we form with other people that define our experiences.

Listening to friends and family speak at Drake Edwards’ funeral in my hometown, I was overwhelmed by the compassion of the community around us. So many people from my high school had turned up to show their support in a tragic sort of class reunion where we all wore black instead of nametags. Yet as terrible as the circumstances were, the gathering was completely representative of Drake’s character. His smile, his laughter, and his love were infectious, and everyone who met him was affected by the fervency with which he lived his life.

What I respected most about Drake was that he made time for everyone, and ultimately I suppose that is the real takeaway from all of the sadness this season. Make time for people. Listen. We can have our groceries delivered to our door without even talking to a cashier, but is that really how we should live our lives? Are we really too “busy” to engage with others?

Recently, in a Powell’s Books restroom, a store employee’s actions pleasantly reminded me of the kindness of strangers. While I was tending to a wound on my foot the woman came up to me and offered to get me a Band-Aid, returning minutes later with a handful of plasters and ointment. “Foot trouble can just ruin your whole day,” she said with a smile before returning to work. I asked myself, would I have done the same for a stranger?

There is no excuse for not acknowledging those who have been significant in our lives and for not thanking those who have helped us along the way. For tuning into your Facebook instead of your nephew’s fascination with LEGOS. For not returning phone calls. For ignoring your cleaning lady. The smallest interactions can make the biggest difference, and we have no way of knowing our full impact on the lives of others. Drake’s funeral was testament to that.

I am no saint; I neglect my parents and have my fair share of grumpy days. It is easy to prioritize other things in the midst of midterms and financial crises. As we get older those distractions become still stronger, and it becomes even easier to keep to ourselves. But I try to remember that the fragility of our existence is all the more reason to cherish every day, to make the effort to connect with others. One of the speakers at Drake’s funeral said this of his life: “Rather than being counted in days, his was better measured in lives touched.” An admirable goal for us all.

Anneli L. Tostar ’15, a Crimson news writer, is an anthropology concentrator in Eliot House.

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