Monday through Friday, during the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years I would walk into a classroom filled with other high schoolers of all ages each morning. Our teacher would sit in the middle of the long line of tables, with her large print scriptures, each verse highlited in a different color that I’m sure meant something to her. The room was always filled with shining happy faces. We were the lucky 7:30 class, which starkly contrasts with the emotion filling my 5:45 class the two following school years. Of course there were some faces with the clear distain for their parents forcing them to come that morning, but the smiles from the other students of the class typically drowned out the dreariness emanating from those few rebellious bodies.
One smile in particular always shined brightly, even though you wouldn’t expect it. His name was Jared. He was a year older than me, had shaggy brown hair, spoke American Sign Language, and always had a friendly demeanor.
I remember in particular the days that we would play competitive games in class, scripture chases were the most common element in these games. Jared would get so involved in these that you just had to smile at his enthusiasm and team support. He turned out to be a great friend of mine.
My sophomore year things changed. I was at a leadership workshop when I received a text, “Did Jared’s Mom really die?” I wasn’t at school, so I was filled with shock and didn’t know if this was true or just a rumor going around that day. When I arrived back at school that afternoon I found out that it had not been a rumor and that she was gone. It was at this time that I saw a change in Jared. He obviously was overtaken by sadness and remorse for the immediate period after her death, but as he came out of those emotions, he was more compassionate, he had more love in his eyes for those around him. His cheery disposition returned and we spent the rest of the year laughing through our 7:30 class.
I was filled with sadness when it was announced that the 7:30 class would be canceled and I would have to go to a class with a different group of people for my last two years of high school. I would still see the members of my prier class in school though, so I would be alright. However, I came to find out that Jared and his family would be moving to Arizona, so I would no longer see him at school. I was sad as he walked out of my life and the joyous spirit he always brought left our school community.
Life went on though. I had other friends who brought true joy and happiness to my life. I did miss Jared, but I saw he was doing well in Arizona; I was happy for him.
But one day it all changed.
Facebook posts started surfacing on his wall, “I can’t believe you’re gone.” I read through them and froze in complete and utter fear. Was he really gone? He was a senior in high school, preparing to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I was in denial. I’m sure this was how King Limhi’s wife felt when she was told her husband was dead. She stood in complete denial of the situation at hand. She could not bring herself to believe or admit that he was gone. It was the same way with my own feelings.
It was a time of complete confusion. I didn’t know what was true and if he was really gone. But, there was no way Jared could be gone just like that. I couldn’t come to accept it until his brother posted that it was true. He really was gone.
I cried. I felt empty. I didn’t know how someone so full of life could be gone in an instant. He hadn’t even graduated high school yet.
At his funeral, I sat holding the hand of one my best friends, weeping for the life that was lost. I listened to the people who spoke of him and looked around at the hundreds of people that filled the room to support his family and to celebrate his life. People from school, church, karate, the ASL community, and more filled the chapel of the church that day. I don’t think anyone made it through the funeral with a dry eye.
This funeral is one of the most impactful moments in my life; I realized that in his short life Jared had effected so many people, he had accomplished so much, he had made such a difference. We don’t know the span of our life or the lives of those around us, but that doesn't mean we should live in fear of it being cut short. We should live as Jared did, with a smile on our face and with all the gusto we can muster.