A post on my Facebook feed this morning yielded the sad news that a former classmate passed away. I had known him all through elementary school, until I switched from the public school system to Catholic school in 7th grade. We had mutual friends, though, and I remember meeting up with him again at a party in the summer between high school and college. It was a geeky, quirky party – Halloween themed even though it was summertime. There were watermelons carved like jack-o-lanterns, and I remember him tossing grapes in the air to see bats swoop down and catch them.
We connected on Facebook about 4 or 5 years ago, but it wasn’t until this morning that I realized that I barely knew him.
I looked at his profile page, which was quickly filling up with messages from friends, and I caught a glimpse of someone who was a quiet yet powerful presence in many people’s lives and in his field of work. I had never paid attention before to where he worked or went to school. Occasionally I would read an article he shared or save a funny picture he posted, but I realized today that I never even hit the “like” button on those posts.
As I scrolled through his profile, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from his friends, the pain they feel at his loss, and the regret I have for taking his presence for granted.
“You were one of the most genuinely kind people I’ve ever known.”
“For my part, all I can say is that Andy’s friendship was an utter, random, mystifying blessing. I honestly never expected to meet people as kind as him in the “dog-eat-dog” workaday world. We met about two weeks after each of us graduated from college, and spent the next nine years supporting each other through the tumults of adult life. The fact that he was only 31 when this happened makes it all-the-more incomprehensible, but I can say that any age would have been too early for someone as energetic and passionate as Andy. His life spanned the east coast and the west coast, the non-profit sector and the for-profit sector, a passion for art and a passion for science, friendship, love, and a lot of amazing conversations about the mysteries of existence. Since I found out about his death, there has been a small part of me waiting for a knock on my door, and when I open it, I see a robot with a screen for a face, and it’s Andy’s face on the screen, and he says “hey man, sorry it looked like I died, but I just accidentally uploaded my consciousness to this robot…” This type of kooky, sci-fi story would be completely in character for Andy. He was too good for this world, but thank goodness he was in it.”
I was moved to read these words and understand what a kind person he was, but I truly felt loss when I read messages from his co-workers and realized what an intelligent, capable doer he was, and that he had used his skills to make distinct and tangible changes in the world.
“In 2008 I worked with Andy on Measure WW, a $500 million bond measure to preserve east bay open spaces and wildlife habitat as a public treasure in perpetuity. We’d lost our first field coordinator and Andy kind of parachuted in and saved the day. He was instrumental in recruiting and deploying a field team which helped win the measure by a 72% vote. Beyond the obvious skills and lovability that was Andy, his automatic sense that living was on some level indistinguishable from a cause is what I’ll most remember about him.”
“he was such a gift. to each of us, to the work, to the world. what a unique mind…and to everyone who was on the canvass when he was: we were so lucky to have known him and it hurts to lose him.”
I realized that with every TED talk or thought-provoking article he posted that I read but didn’t comment on or like, I had missed out on a conversation that would have broadened my world and added to this “adventure” of life.
Journeys are more than where my feet lead me. They are more than hikes and pushing physical limits and exploring new places. You can meet awesome, intriguing people on the trail who challenge you to think broadly, but you can also meet them in your hometown.You just have to notice.
I’ve learned a lot today that I will take with me, but I wish that it could have come without the loss of this person who had so much to give.
To all of Andy’s friends, I send my sympathy, but I envy that you were able to recognize what an awesome person he was and that you were able to know and love him.