In the first half of 2012 I went to 6 funerals: Blue Eyes’ grandmother, a co-worker who lost his battle with cancer, one of Blue Eyes’ best friends and his young son, a dear neighbor from my hometown, and my grandfather. It was a rough six months, oy.
In 2013 I only attended one funeral, a young man just about to graduate from college whom I had met several years earlier. More than perhaps any other funeral, my own grandparents and relatives included, his has stuck with me; Daniel’s funeral was a year ago, but I cannot stop thinking about it, or him. I met Daniel when he was 16, a Junior at the high school where I volunteer in the theater department; he was trying to wrap his head around a difficult Shakespeare monologue, rehearsing to perform at a national competition. He was soft-spoken, smart, determined, and willing to try just about any suggestion to better portray Richard III, the hunchback villain. He was brilliant. Over the next 2 years I coached him on a few different pieces and when he went to college I made a point to go and see the plays in which he performed. His command of language and emotion and his dedication to his art was impressive when he was a teenager, as he learned more about acting it was hard to pay attention to anyone else on stage; that kid was a natural powerhouse.
Daniel was a hipster before it was hip or trendy—he wore skinny colored jeans and black dreadlocks halfway down his back. He had square glasses with dark frames, wrote poetry and played the guitar, and did not care what anyone else thought of him. He rode his skateboard everywhere and I often saw him around my neighborhood which is adjacent to his University. I always honked, and he always waved (usually followed up by a Facebook message thanking me for saying hello). Despite a somewhat rough-looking exterior, Daniel was the kindest, most humble kid I think I’ve ever met. He never put himself above others, I never heard him mock or make fun of a fellow student, and he would do anything to help make a play or competition piece better for everyone involved. Man, that kid was a sweetheart.
I’m still not sure how he died, although because it wasn’t ever announced publicly I imagine it was some kind of drug overdose, either intentional or accidental. He died halfway through his last semester at the university, just weeks before his graduation ceremony.
Daniel’s funeral was unlike any I have ever attended, and I’ve been to probably 25 or 30 in my lifetime. The room was packed with people from all walks of life, the service and remarks were in English and Spanish with translation of both languages. There were beautiful stories, hilarious stories, poems and songs and tributes from family back in Colombia and his fellow University cohort. Daniel was spiritual but not religious, his family acknowledged his position while still maintaining their own hopes to see him in an afterlife. His brothers and cousins sang “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd, his friends quoted huge sections of Shakespeare’s Richard III and Henry V. His aunt read a few stanzas from a Shakespearean sonnet and the final tribute was a Beatles song, sung by anyone in the audience who wished to participate.
It seemed to me a true celebration of a passionate life cut short, as well as a time for grief and mourning of a son, grandson, nephew, brother, and friend. Even though Daniel and I weren’t terribly close, I feel like I will always carry a small piece of him in my heart. And I will always remember the Shakespeare-loving teen with dreadlocks who lived life according to his own rules.