Yesterday, I was feeling nostalgic for my teenage years. I reflected on the experiences I had, and the growth I experienced. I reached out to a few friends to give thanks, and there was one for whom I was most thankful.
Unfortunately I had difficulty getting ahold of him. When reaching out to a mutual friend, I inquired about him, and heard a difficult message. My friend passed away 5 years ago. He was too young, too brilliant, and too kind to leave this Earth; and yet he did.
Because I can not tell him directly, I’ve written a letter to express my love for him, and sorrow for his loss. To protect his family’s privacy, I’ve modified the name. It’s included below.
Kate has shared that you are no longer with us. I find that hard to believe. Earnest Hemmingway has noted that every man has two deaths: when he is buried, and when his name is last spoke. You may have left this Earth, but so long as I am alive, you too shall live.
You were one of the most influential people in my life. I’m confident the same can not be said in reverse; and I’m OK with that. Our teenage years were difficult. All of us. IRC was a place where misfits could find community, and we found each other. For that, I am eternally grateful.
Our time together was a brief few years, but its impact on my life was profound. I experienced idiopathic hypersomnolence, and could not live a normal life. How can one be a part of society when their circadian rhythm is irregular and extended? I could not attend school, work, or even driving lessons. I wasn’t bed bound, but I was chained nonetheless; and in IRC I found you. In you, I found friendship and inspiration.
I have two creative passions that defined my life: Engineering and Cooking. My love for each came from within, but my success in either was defined by key mentors in pivotal moments. I was never a formal protege of yours. I never worked on projects with you, and I never had the chance to be a student. But, in you, I was inspired. I was supported. I was taught. I was loved. Loved in the way that only a craftsman can love another by sharing their craft.
In typing this to you now, I found myself crying. So much of my life has been defined by that craft. Following the years of self-discovery we call adolescence, it has become a core part of my being. Through hard work and loving mentorship, I am now blessed to be amongst the best craftsmen in our field. So were you.
I could not afford the luxury of schooling. I never even graduated high school. Through grit, determination, and perhaps some genetic luck of above-average learning capability, I thrived. My passion for the craft and religious adherence to self-improvement has driven me to great heights. Each of these traits were inspired, in large part, by you.
You taught me to love Perl as you did, and for that I am grateful. Perl has a lot to dislike, especially in organization and team settings. But as a craftsman, it is a joy to behold. Perl’s minimalistic language allows for expressivity. The way language features are evolved by emergent patterns rather than compiler magic make it an excellent pedagogical device. Ruby and Python were, perhaps, more suitable, or approachable languages. But Perl was the swiss-army chainsaw you loved, and I came to love it too.
In the Perl community, I found friendship. I found support, and mentorship. I found work, and I found growth. My life became filled with work and growth. I left IRC and joined the “real world”. I was able to socialize again with people face-to-face, and I took as much advantage of that as I could. I don’t regret that move. I do regret not keeping in closer touch with you, in light of all that’s transpired since.
When I tried to find you yesterday, I found artifacts of your work online. A GitHub account furiously active for years, and then cold. I was afraid of what I believed may have been true. I was hoping that, perhaps, you had changed your name or identity. Maybe you had joined the witness protection program. Perhaps you had moved to Antarctica or Bulgaria to become a cryptomonk. Reality is much crueler.
I can, in fact, imagine the pain you experienced before you lept from that iconic bridge. I too have experienced it. In my faith, suicide is understood as the ultimate symptom of a terrible disease. Life is a precious gift granted to us, and can so easily be taken away by others. To take it away yourself is a sign of a tragedy too painful to bear. I have reminded myself many times that rest is preferable to termination, as termination is irreversible. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there to remind you too.
You never sought fame, glory, or impact. You were just a great friend. You shared love, intellect, and time. You shared so selflessly. To this day, you inspire me to be better. You inspire me to share. You inspire me to mentor. In my life, and the hundreds of others you have similarly touched, you will live on.
Thank you Eric. May your life be everlasting.