Luke Voss-Kernan, a 2010 graduate of Newton South High School, died May 25, 2012, when he fell from an abandoned fuel tank at Gas Works Park in Seattle during a cross-country trip with two Newton friends. His mother, Gisela Voss, posted the following words on her Facebook page as a letter to her son and another to his friends who are graduating from college this spring and heading off into the world. Voss has given Globe West permission to print the post.
I laugh every time I think I’m never going to talk to you again because it sounds like the stupidest thing in the world. How can I exist in a world that doesn’t include you?
I miss the sound of your voice. Your wrecked skater shoes thrown all around. The smell of your incense on your ratty sweat shirt. I will be longing for you as long as I live.
This time of year feels so heavy. The two-year mark of your departure (who the **** can call that an “anniversary”) is coming, and the dread had set in before I even turned the calendar page. I still wake up e-v-e-r-y-s-i-n-g-l-e-m-o-r-n-i-n-g to the newfound realization that you are dead. I relive the panic and the disbelief that you could already be gone this long. Gone to where we cannot follow, until I have finished all of my days.
And yet life — this life, at least — keeps chugging along.
Most of your high school friends are graduating, Luke, and it’s not that I begrudge them their milestones . . . it’s just that on top of missing you, I am missing yours. So . . . by way of channeling my grief into something positive, I dare write a letter to your classmates finishing college. In “your” voice:
An open letter to Luke’s graduating classmates — Newton South High class of 2010
. . . to all of you becoming teachers, neuroscientists, musicians, doctors, artists, lawyers, lions, tigers, and bears — (oh, my!) — becoming ADULTS . . .
How lucky you are to have the venerable privilege of finishing college. Of standing on the cusp of adulthood with the world wide open and ready for your contributions. For the utter gift of your presence here among us.
Your presence in the present. Have you any idea, really, how extraordinary just that fact alone is? How the very breath you’re taking without paying any mind to it is a blessing denied to many? Close your eyes for at least one minute each day. Count 60 breaths and marvel at the preponderance of possibilities before you.
Then vow when you open your eyes to remember, for a moment, that tomorrow is not a guarantee. Don’t let that thought paralyze you. I’m not saying don’t plan for a future that might never come. But use the fragile nature of our every day to propel you to always, always, ALWAYS . . . choose dreams over doldrums, adventure over avarice, memories over money, friends over . . . heck, over everything else.
Speaking of memories and friends. Never pass up the opportunity to make some of each. Both nourish the soul. Especially together. Embrace their gifts and treasures. Memories can bring happiness or sadness, but because they are a part of you they cannot be taken away. Relish all of them. Squander none of them . . . the mistakes you’ll make, the bosses and jobs you’ll hate, the mentors and jobs you’ll love, the wrinkles you’ll grow, the babies you’ll birth, the years you will live — the-years-you-will-live.
Give love and receive love. Boldly. Freely. Unapologetically. Love is the only thing KNOWN to survive death. If you feel it, say it. Risk it. Hearts can heal from unrequited love, but not from regret.
Look up from your digital gizmos and look into each other’s eyes. Be present with each other — and with the unknown. Ask the big questions. Stand long enough to actually hear the answer to “How are you?” Sit long enough to ponder the answer to “Who are you?”
Be happy, pig-in-**** happy, for what you have. Even when you have little. Or when you think you have little. Because just by graduating from college and reading this missive you have so much more than most people on the planet will ever have, or have ever had. Including time. TIME to be happy, fall in love, fall out of love, ride a bike, fall off a bike, get back on, write a song or symphony, paint a painting, pop a wheelie, stand in awe.
That’s it really. In three words.
Stand in awe.