Two holes were seared into our school in the past three months. Some of us lost a classmate, some of us a friend, but we have all felt the pain of laying to rest two of our own. One of the holes is the size of a 17-year-old science whiz with the heart of gold, just as he was getting ready to graduate and take on the world. The other, a 13-year-old dancer who by all accounts spread optimism and cheerfulness wherever she went.
Brendan Kutler and Julia Siegler share little in common other than that their deaths were devastating blows to the entire school and all who knew them. We lost both Brendan and Julia in senseless cosmic spasms, the kind that make us question our faith in a rational and benevolent universe.
If there is any ray of good to emerge from these successive tragedies, it is the way in which our community rallied together to support each other. Teachers, students and parents alike were rocked by the news, whether or not they knew Brendan or Julia.
The ubiquitous double baseball caps in honor of Brendan as well as the letters of love and support that practically overflow in Juliaâs bedroom are a testament to the family that is Harvard-Westlake. Purple bouquets fill the corner of Sunset and Cliffwood, now covered in scrawled messages of love and mourning.
Since their deaths, we have heard more beautiful and eloquent things said about Julia and Brendan than we have ever heard anybody say about anybody. These words bring comfort to us as we grieve their loss, but we think another true tragedy is that they never got to hear what people truly thought of them while they were still alive.
All of the beautiful things people have been saying were not planted posthumously. The compliments were in our minds, but we never thought to or summoned the courage to say them until it was too late for the subjects to hear.
We always talk about the uncertainty of life in an abstract, rhetorical manner that borders on clichÃ©. “You better enjoy life because you never know when youâll step into a street and lose it in a flash,” or some variation is a phrase said so often that there is only the hollow echo of a trite, vague remark until the violent reminder of the fundamental truth that one second you could be running for a bus and the next, not. It is necessary to try to take something away from what would seem to be a senseless tragedy in order to maintain our own beliefs in a logical existence.
The only lesson we can find from the loss of Brendan and Julia, though, is that we shouldnât bottle up and hide away our feelings about others. If you have something nice to say to someone, say it while you still can.
We shouldnât have to wait until a person is gone to remember them fondly.
Too often we take for granted the idea that the people we love know that we love them. When we criticize our friends, it is rooted in our admiration and affection for them, but usually that part escapes day-to-day conversations. There would be much more happiness in the world if we just vocalized those compliments that we think but donât say.
In honor of Julia, her friends have placed street signs and made wristbands that read “Slow Down for Julia.” The phrase, they said, has double meaning: drive with more caution so as to avoid another accident like the one that took Julia, but also take your time in everyday life to appreciate the beauty in the world and people around you. We should decrease the tempo of our lives as well as the speed of our cars. We should stop and smell the roses, and then tell the roses how good they smell.
So Slow Down for Julia and Smile for BK. Spread love while you still can, because you never know when, suddenly, you canât.