Sometimes you search and find something to write about, while at other times the writing finds you. Such is the case with this blog entry, as yesterday I woke up to find that a young man, 26 year-old Crafton Hills College student Adam Yahel Diaz, whom I had just seen the evening prior, had passed away in car accident while driving to San Francisco early Friday morning.
During the entire day on Friday, I received Facebook messages, phone calls and emails from the Crafton Hills Community, both students and educators alike, all with the strong need to process the tragedy that just unfolded before us -processing that took the form of planning events, recalling memories and telling stories of our personal relationships with Adam.
At the outset, please understand that I knew far more about Adam, from friends and colleagues, than I actually personally knew Adam. I was not a close friend nor confidante, just a person who had occasional informal encounters with him and who frequently heard others speak very highly of him.
It seems everyone knew him.
Crafton Hills is a community college. The nature of these institutions is generally one of transience, in that most students juggle work, school, family, while finding little time to work on building a sense of community as “real life” is just too demanding. This is what set Adam apart from the majority of students, he not only strove to build community, he embodied it.
Unlike High School, where you have the “popular” crowd, the community college has no such social stratification. However, if you were to choose the “popular kid” at Crafton Hills, it would have been Adam Yahel Diaz. He was that guy everyone seemed to know from somewhere. Why? Because you did not go to Adam, he, eventually, came to you.
And he seemed to go everywhere. I know because Adam came to me.
Adam was involved in school governance, the arts program, campus life and just about any event that worked to build community on the campus. I had never met him, though knew of him, until early March when he approached me about delivering a speech for our campus wide event, Day of Advocacy, with a topic entitled, “Securing the Blessings: On a Healthy Relationship Between Church and State.”
This speech was so Adam. It was about building bridges between groups -in this case church and state- coming together and putting aside our differences for the sake of unity—for the sake of community. Adam had never been my student so I never really was able to coach him up in a way I would have liked. The speech itself was not always terribly clear…but that mattered so little, if at all.
Because, as I quickly learned with Adam, it was about who he was…not necessarily what he said. His spirit reverberated enormous positive energy and brilliance of light. You might not have known exactly where he was always going with an idea but, wherever it was, you wanted to go with him. We wanted in on that positive energy train—his spirit was strong, captivating, genuine and undeniable. If only all my students could tap into their inner charisma the way he did, our campus, hence, our world, would never be the same.
As my dad used to say, Adam was the kind of guy that could probably sell snowballs to Eskimos—but Adam was not a salesman. Rather, he freely gave away his positive and powerful energy to all those in his presence.
His smile was pleasantly and permanently etched on his face.
When such a tragic passing takes place, many begin the struggle to “make sense” and attempt to answer life’s deepest question: Why? It is, perhaps, the ultimate tension.
Yet, such a question might only lead one down the road of false hope, at best, and, at worst, utter frustration and bitterness.
It is not time to focus on the “why” but rather the “what”—as in what are the gifts, the lessons, the blessings that Adam graced us with and how we can we, the community of Crafton Hills College and beyond, carry these on in his honor and on his behalf?
I respect faith. In fact, I respect faith so much I would never cheapen it with my frail interpretation of how it plays out in life…and death. A wise friend of ours once told us a saying that resonated so deeply we keep it permanently displayed in our home: “I would never worship a God I could fully understand.”
Is this passing part of a universal plan? Whether it is or it is not, it makes little difference. I am the type of person who focuses on what I do know and not things I cannot possibly know -at least with any degree of certainty.
And what do we know?
I know that shortly after finding out this news, a colleague called me up in tears. “I just wrote him three letters of recommendation for three Ivy league school this past week,” she said. This only testifies to the fact he never waited for colleges or life to come to him, he always went to them. I know this.
We know Adam was a builder. He proactively built relationships, bridges, and, above all, community –a nice touch for a community college.
And now we find that real life has come to us in a tragic and powerful way. We know that we must now accept and live with this new reality that Adam is no longer among us, physically. Yet, we also know he leaves all of us with a bevy of powerful gifts, lessons and blessings that we have the duty to carry on. We have an obligation to come together as a community, express our love and concern for one another, and live in a manner that Adam desired for us all.
We will miss you Adam.
You came to us…and now none of us will ever be the same.
(A memorial will be held at Crafton Hills College on Tuesday, April 14 at 1:00pm in the LRC building. Perhaps this will be a good starting point in continuing to build the community Adam so jovially worked towards)