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Devastation and Redemption
The most profoundly devastating aspect of life is loss in death. On a clear fall afternoon, one day shy of his 18th birthday, my friend Alex Holbein was struck by lightning and killed instantly.
Although Alex was a year ahead of me in school, the small student population of Oakbrook Preparatory School allowed us to maintain a friendship throughout grade school. I believe childhood relationships make us who we are as individuals and whenever I contemplate the intimacies I built during my childhood, I always think of Alex.
Growing up together in a small community of students where everyone knew each other and their families, the experiences of our youth were continually parallel. We endured it all together: the good, the bad, and the unforgettable.
Alex and I were both goal tenders on the soccer team in middle school. We were competitive soccer players, but we shared the responsibility of the field in both the victories and the failures. Alex was significantly better than me athletically, better than most on the team, but he never made his superiority known, except for in the game. The physical rivalry was intense, but we never missed an opportunity to joke around after the match.
On 9/11/01, I sat beside Alex in our school hallway as we watched the Twin Towers collapse on television. At an age when any emotional vulnerability was criticized, I remember he cried as our school community bowed our heads in prayer for our country. Alex wept in a crowd of many who failed to recognize the overwhelming sorrow of the tragedy and what it meant to all that we had come to know. In a congregation of children, Alex was a fearless adult.
The week before his death, a teacher asked us to write an essay defining the ambitions and fears of our lives following graduation.
Reaching for my pencil, I told Alex jokingly, “I’m scared of just about everything in the world after I leave here.”
Alex responded swiftly and confidently, as he always did with, “Just live life to the fullest now, be happy, and you won’t need to fear anything else later, even death.”
When Alex was killed, I lost the faith I had in the world. I didn’t understand how someone so genuine and honest could be taken away before he had the chance to live life. Growing up with so many people who lost sight of their goals and made the poor decisions teenagers make and never get back, Alex was different. He had the ability to change the world, but tragically I’ll never know what he could’ve done or what he could’ve been.
At times I resent that Alex is gone. I resent the fact that he was taken from this world just as his life was beginning. He will never have the chance to do the things he wanted in life. He was a person of integrity, faith, humor, and intelligence, and he will never have his own family or fulfill the dreams he had. I have no doubt that Alex would have lived an honorable and accomplished life. Then I think of the influence he had on his friends and family and the legacy he left behind. I still don't understand why Alex was taken, but I know that good things can come from tragedy.
I was seventeen years old when Alex died, and I lacked first-hand experience with the finality of death. I was consumed with my life and the importance of my performance at school, and like most teenagers, death seemed very unreal to me, something that couldn't touch me. The experience of seeing someone who meant so much cease to exist in the time span of a few seconds was incomprehensible.
Over the past year, I have struggled with the loss of my friend. I know I changed when Alex died. I saw up close how life can be snatched away at any moment. I went through a period where academics seemed secondary to happiness in life. But with time, I learned that life is an opportunity to be seized. I have one chance to make the world a better place, to fulfill my dreams, to be the best person I can be. I try to honor the people who love me, and to let them know by word and deed that I appreciate their presence in my life.
Alex was a true friend to me in life and he continues to be a friend to me in death. I will always remember the good times we had together, and I will try to live my life in a way that will honor his memory. The memories of Alex inspire me every day of life; when my faith in the world wanes; he is still here, and he redeems me.