Tuesday, 9:04 am. I was walking out of the Office of Student Affairs in Adelbert Hall when my iPhone vibrated. The email preview window read, “From: President Barbara R. Snyder… Subj: Tragic News.”
On Monday evening, Case Western Reserve University undergraduates William Felten, Lucas Marcelli, Abraham Pishevar and John Hill died when the plane they were flying in crashed.
The beginning of every semester should be a moment of anticipatory reverie. But the second day of classes for the Fall 2014 semester was marred with a heavy blackness the entire campus felt by the end of the day.
Most fraternities cancelled their rush events out of respect, freshman dorms held their own vigils in the evening, and a vigil was held at 10:30 p.m. in front of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity house. A number of students gave testaments to how their friends touched their lives and those around them. Despite the somber tone, laughter broke through in certain moments of elevated remembrance.
Why does something like this happen? What does it all mean?
Of course, there are no concrete or correct answers to those questions, but they are important questions to discuss.
On Aug. 11, 2014, the world lost comic icon and acting genius Robin Williams. Playing prep-school English teacher John Keating in “Dead Poet’s Society,” he uses old pictures of students as props to deliver one of the best monologues in film, establishing the Latin concept of carpe diem as a fixture in modern society.
“Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you…Hear it? (whispering) Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
I cannot and will not try and answer why those four students died Monday night, but perhaps these words and their implications offer a possible meaning. Perhaps we must not look at what was lost in that tragic crash, but instead celebrate their legacies.
While I did not know William, Lucas, Abraham or John, I know a number of students who did. After speaking with them, it’s clear that these four young men did not wait until it was too late to begin tapping into what they were most capable of. And as if any validation of this claim is needed, they were studying at CWRU, a top institution of higher education.
Personally, I tend to find symbolic meaning in seemingly trivial things. Around sunset on Tuesday, a daunting blanket of clouds situated themselves above our campus, only there was a hole over Mather Quad and the North Residential Village. The ganglions of lightning were impressive, the thunder echoed, and the sun cast an orange-purple-pink-red hue across the facades of campus buildings while kissing the tops of the clouds leaving traces of its bright yellow lipstick.
But it never rained. By the time the ZBT vigil began, stars were all that littered the sky.
After I read President Snyder’s email Tuesday morning, I talked with our crossing guard and good friend Officer Mark Chavis. After some back and forth, he said, “If there’s a loved one you haven’t called in a while, call them and tell them you love them. Tomorrow’s not promised, Jake.”
The sheer amount of pain this campus has felt this week is enough to demonstrate the grief of mourning. But it also shows the lesson we all must take away after the grief subsides. In his “Meditations,” Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back.” That is how we get through this tragedy.
We can get through anything if we embrace each other and stoically bear it. On Tuesday, CWRU did just this, going through the hardship as a strong, connected, and loving community.
We celebrate the lives of those four young men by seizing the day and making our lives extraordinary. We honor their lives by rising each day, making it to class on time, and succeeding in all that we do. Most importantly, we smile and do it together.
Jacob Martin is the opinions editor. When in pain he’s always found solace in Jack Johnson’s lyrics: “All of life is in one drop of the ocean waiting to go home. And if the moon can turn the tides it can pull the tears and take them from our eyes and turn them into monsoons.”