To Ulrik – In Memoriam
Ulrik was one of Easton’s most beloved students. He was one of the first faces I saw when I began teaching in Denver, and I will never forget how warmly he welcomed me. When we first met, he was just ten years old. In May of this year, at the young age of seventeen, we lost him. I think of Ulrik, of his family, and most of all, of his little sister who was his best friend, every day. I wrote this letter to him, days after his passing, to be shared at his service. With the permission of his father (my dear friend), I would like to share it with you.
My Letter to Ulrik
When Parker called me, and asked me to write to you, I was in the middle of doing the dishes, and thinking of you while I was doing them. I have been agonizing over what to say, because there are no words I can put onto paper that can capture how heartbroken I am, and how much I will miss you. In class, I would often talk about the significance of the concept: “the last time”. There is a last time for everything, and very often, we don’t know when the last time we are doing something is, or will be. Never, did I even remotely consider that the last time we trained together, wished each other a goodnight, or gave each other a hug would be the “last time” we would do so, but as both of us well know, that is the nature of this brief and precarious life.
I think it’s human tendency to feel consumed with regret in the wake of such tragedy. (I have written, deleted and rewritten that sentence about ten times, because referring to what happened as a “tragedy” somehow trivializes your untimely death, and feels completely inadequate in communicating my feelings of sorrow and anguish.) I do feel incredibly regretful, of course, but I know you wouldn’t want me to, so I will work through that on my own, and will spare you, and everyone else from having to hear me dwell on it. It is perilously easy to fall into the self-indulgent behavior of wallowing in regret, and while doing so, subtly making this somehow about me; when it isn’t: it’s about you.
“I think as you get older, life feels as though it’s speeding up because each new year represents a smaller fraction of the overall experience than the year before it. So, year by year, time feels as though it’s hastening. That’s why it is important that we slow down, and try to appreciate each moment”
You said this to me when you were ten years old. I was teaching you and your sister a private lesson, and was in the middle of lamenting my busy schedule. I remember commenting on how my increasingly overwhelming schedule was making me feel like time was quickening, and as though I wasn’t connecting with my life. The conversation piqued your interest, and you came over, sat next to me and corrected my rationale. Obviously, this was almost seven years ago, so I don’t remember the exact words you used, but I remember the spirit of your message, and I will never forget it. I will never forget the moment where I realized you were absolutely right. I will never forget feeling the unique blend of awe and unease that accompanied the realization that a ten year-old could be so insightful, profound and wise beyond their years. I must admit, it was an eerily profound moment, and it has stuck with me over the years.
I will never forget giving speeches at the end of my advanced classes to audiences that often exceeded seventy adults, and being most self conscious that a teenager, you, would see through me. I will never forget the feeling that despite the twenty year gap in our age, I had more in common with you than I do with most people my age, and as is true with all of us; I will certainly never forget the boy we all felt so lucky to spend our lives with, day in and day out, and the smart, thoughtful and handsome young man we were watching you become.
We were all so proud of you, and shared the collective feeling that we all had a hand, however small, in contributing to the wonderful person you were.
I never told you that I have been parroting your rationale for why life feels like it continues to move faster as we get older every time I possibly can, and in every conversation where it felt warranted. It always made me feel like I sounded wiser than I actually am. I, of course, didn’t tell whomever I was in the process of “enlightening”, that I had acquired that rationale from a ten year old, but I promise I will start doing so from here on out.
I hope you know how much you were loved, and how much the Easton community has, and will always, cherish you. I must admit, what has been keeping me up at night, and what scares me most, is the dreadful and heart wrenching feeling that you didn’t know, and that it’s too late to tell you.
“Do you see this glass?” he asked. “I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”
– Frank Ostaseski
I think, there is nothing left to do, but to miss you.