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Posthumous Realizations

January 17: the day laughter subconsciously slipped away and misery and despair clung in the air. The moment of silence echoed through a boundless emptiness. Something terrible had happened. And yet it wasn’t a natural disaster that took countless lives or a war that rocked the world into oblivion. No, it didn’t need to be blared across the front cover of the Sunday issue of the New York Times or displayed word for word in neon lights in the front of your house for you to know it either. It was something that sat in your blood, whose presence made it enough to be felt. Something in that moment in time felt supernaturally askew because I could tell that nothing seemed right and though I didn’t know exactly what had brought this disturbance, it only took the news to reach my ears the next day for my suspicions to be confirmed. A disturbance so strong and life-changing could not be ignored so easily. Mr. Donnelly’s death was a change so atrocious and eventful that I believe it could- especially by those who were influenced by it most- simply be felt.


When Mr. Donnelly passed away that Sunday of January 17th , he left behind him a trail of tears , touching every soul in the school building, whether it was of those who had known him all his life and lived for every moment spent with him, or people who overlooked what an exceptional man he truly was. I was one of those people who in all 3 years of middle school only had a few glimpses of this extraordinary man, but who in just those few glimpses touched me so deeply that his passing away would wound my heart more deeply than a bullet shot straight through it. Although I had never known Mr. Donnelly past these few glimpses, I could tell you that he was an extremely optimistic, extremely gentle soul, always caring more for others than for himself, even still while he was battling cancer.

A battle he inevitably lost.



I remember that on one particular day I came rushing down the stairs to get to lunch. I wasn’t going to be late: far from it. I wasn’t preoccupied with anything: quite the opposite. I remember slowing down when I saw him over there –Mr. Donnelly-between the door of the main office and the entrance of the school building, crowded between a mixture of his fellow teachers and admiring students. The sight was some-what, addicting. Mr. Donnelly stood there, encompassed by all these people, boiling in the attention they were all giving him, (although he’d never say it) and then he just… raised his head and looked at me and his eyes caught mine and he smiled, a smile that if any bigger seemed to be strong enough a cure for his cancer, and I kept walking, and he kept smiling, and I kept walking, and he kept smiling, and I kept walking…
He just raised his head and looked at me, and in that moment his eyes seemed to release everything that wouldn’t have been in Pandora’s Box; love and joy, happiness and hope, laughter and livelihood poured out of his eyes. At that moment he seemed to be the light of the world. Despite all this, despite the euphoric feeling that overcame me, I couldn’t stop walking; I wouldn’t stop to go to him and comfort him. It was as though my legs were set on cruise and the button that could turn it off was jammed. I didn’t know why I had done that then, how come I couldn’t stop myself. Maybe, I thought that if I stayed and glanced at him any longer, he would continue pouring all that good out of himself and then there wouldn’t be any left to battle his lung cancer. Whatever the reason, I hadn’t known, but my body pulled me further and further towards the cafeteria.

Surprisingly, this is the clearest memory in my life. I mean, I can recognize my mother’s face, but in my mind it’s impossible to recreate it feature for feature. If someone were to ask me right now the exact color of her hair, I would barely be able to answer. I lived with my mother for fourteen years, was consumed with memories of her for fourteen years, yet that memory of Mr. Donnelly is clearer and speaks more loudly to me than any other. I can see the emotion he had in his eyes, every strand of the few remaining grey hairs resting peacefully on his head, the pale-peach skin tone he befriended so happily. When I imagine this memory in my mind, it sometimes transforms putting Mr. Donnelly as the center point of it. The crowd of teachers and students between us, disappear. Voices halt, time stops, and the only thing left in the memory is a completely silent Mr. Donnelly, and again the only that he does is… smile. It seems clearer now more than ever what he must’ve been saying. “Why don’t you come over here? It’s fun!”-indeed laughter filled the air, coming from the bemused teachers gathered around him-“While there’s still time” he seemed to say, as though he could sense what was to happen in just a few days. Out of that smile came so much; it was the last time I saw him smile, actually the last time I ever saw him.


For some reason Mr. Donnelly always brings to mind that I never really believed in body language. When my 7th grade English teacher gave us an assignment to do on body language, the first thing I thought was bull. The class took turns trying to list everything someone would do in a frenzy of that emotion (turning red for fury, jumping up and forming an “o” with their mouth in a rush of surprise), but I was thinking that whole time how over-rated these bodily expressions of emotions were, the extremes of displaying those emotions. At that moment though, Mr. Donnelly seemed like the ideal of one of these emotions: happiness. He expressed the purest happiness right there, in his last day at his old stomping grounds, while still battling cancer.

The day that Mr. Donnelly died was my birthday. That one smile I realized, the one that said so much, was saying, “Happy Birthday”. Rest in peace Mr. Donnelly.

Rest in peace.





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Ren-P. said...
Sept. 27, 2010 at 11:33 pm
This is so awesome! I love your writing style and all the details you used in your article. Great job.
 
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