Here’s to you, Heather

By By James Sewell

By James Sewell

As you adjust to the demands and expectations of yet another group of professors (or, just as likely, graduate teaching assistants like myself) for your Spring Semester classes, you might be tempted to allow yourself to wallow in self-pity, thinking how unfair it is that you are expected to do such-and-such amount of work for professor so-and-so, and after all, you have all those extracurricular activities to attend to as well8212;the better to pad that résumé which you hope will net you that cool new job.

Reality check: cool new job will not be forthcoming. If you are lucky, you will find entry-level employment with a barely solvent cut-rate company and you will toil in obscurity, mediocrity and poverty until some marginally better job comes along to lift your boat half an inch along with the rest of the workforce, leaving you essentially where you were before. Sounds bleak, doesn’t it?

If I appear to be in a somewhat gloomy mood, it’s because I am. While many of you experienced, for the first time in your lives, a Christmas devoid of the newest iPod model or the latest fashion accoutrements, others experienced true tragedy8212;they lost houses, jobs, friends. It is the latter I wish to speak of here today.

On Dec. 14 Heather Gross was swept away in an avalanche at Snowbird, leading to serious trauma that ultimately took her life. Heather was a student in my department, a close friend and a fellow skier, and her death has admittedly had a stronger impact on me than on many of you8212;though in the midst of the dark mood that descended upon me, I’ve found reasons to be profoundly uplifted.

For while the economy is tanking and millions of lives are thrown into disarray, Heather’s life served as a template for the way in which we should all endeavor to lead our lives8212;as explorers, seekers and compassionate companions with open minds.

I’m reminded of Shakespeare’s line in “The Merchant of Venice”: “How far that little candle throws her beams/ So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” I’ve taken the liberty of re-gendering the candle, though I doubt Heather, nor the Bard himself, will mind.

Heather was a candle of sorts. She brightened up my world and the worlds of many others. She might have been an excellent student, but she was also an excellent human being. Not without her own troubles, Heather was quick to help others whenever possible. And while she might have had the ability to excel academically, she recognized a more fundamental truth that we all manage to suppress daily: That we might complete that paper for Professor X or that math homework for Instructor Y, and that is the temporariness of it all.

So if you’re bummed because the money tree has dried up and stopped producing its filthy sweet subprime mortgage profit so you now have to use the year-old iPod instead of the new one, or because that finance job won’t be offered, remember that none of that stuff matters.

Instead of looking for ways to increase your material well-being or your standing among the shallow, vain hipster set, look for ways to enrich yourself spiritually by helping someone else out, traveling the world and finding ways to appreciate the kind of beauty that money can’t buy. Cut out the self-pity because school seems hard. Guess what folks, it’s supposed to be hard.

But as hard as school is, life is even tougher. Heather’s gift to us was to show us how to really live, and if that meant ditching out on school to shred the gnar on a random Tuesday morning, or on the last day before finals week, so be it. Heather didn’t complain about how hard things were and she tried to provide the kind of positive energy that is so sorely lacking these days. So here’s to you Heather, for doing things right, and I hope we can put your lessons to use. Peace.

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James Sewell