As I write this post in the middle of June, it's been less than a day since I received a message from some of my friends that I met in Buffalo. It turns out that someone we all knew from graduate school had recently passed away. And while I personally was never very close to him, it still felt like there was a void left gaping wide open.
See, Scott was one of several graduate students who I shared an office with. If my memory serves me right, I spent a total of 4 years sharing 619 Baldy Hall with him, together with another graduate student. Scott, unlike us, was of a different generation. Unlike most other graduate students, he was way older than us, and had two grown up kids by the way he entered graduate school. If I understand it correctly, his decision to go to graduate school was actually a career and life change.
So as much as graduate students tend to do things together, Scott did his own thing. He kept himself at a considerable distance (or was it us who kept ourselves away?), so that instead of going to parties and bars after Colloquium on Friday, he would go to his family.
That being said, we still did things together. He had this tradition of inviting all of the foreign students for Thanksgiving Dinner, since most of the American students would go back to their families, while the foreign students would be the ones remaining in town for a holiday that they didn't really celebrate. So Scott would invite all of us to his apartment and have an international dinner instead. As much as I don't have a lot of memories of Scott, the memories that I do have were all positive.
He graduated a couple of years before me, and went on to a teaching position in Rochester. After graduation, we never really talked again. I bumped into him in Portland, in 2012, during the Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America. But that was the only time. Our fields were very different: he was doing fieldwork in Indonesia, I was doing lab work with the folks from Psychology. We went to different conferences, and attended different talks. The only things we shared were some classes that we took together, as well as the 4 years that we spent in 619 Baldy Hall.
So when he died in June, I felt a little weird. I wasn't close enough to him, so I felt like I would feel uncomfortable if people told me "I'm sorry for your loss." That being said, when I got the news that he died, it activated negative emotions in me, to the point that the moment I arrived home, I went straight to the bathroom and emptied my stomach.
Later on, I realized that his death did something else. He reminded me of friends, both from the present and the past, and perhaps, his death became a catalyst or a wake up call to us who are still around, the people who intersected with Scott while he was still alive, when he was still in graduate school. I found myself looking back at the old photos I had of the people I went to graduate school with, wondering where they are now, and wanting to rekindle the communication that for some of them, I have lost.
I suppose, with the loss of Scott, those remaining here got a wake-up call. Life isn't permanent, and so if we aren't careful enough, then we'd just let life zoom in front of us without us being aware of it.