Hey. So, first things first, there will be a new design here soon. Sorry it's been so long since I blogged.
I waited to write about this. I've been reacting to it on Leaky, my twitter, Skype conversations and such, but I didn't want to act, or seem to those most affected as though I was acting, more hurt by Esther's death than my brief interactions with her warranted. We've all seen those guys, they take on such a large helping of grief, so disproportionate to what seems natural, that somehow the grieving people turn in on them, offering so much comfort to a peripheral member of the society that knew the deceased that it disrupts the natural and healthy chain of grieving and respect for the dead. No one wants to be that guy.
Also, there's something that Esther herself recognized, that due to recent attention brought to her by, well, us, and mostly John Green, people had started to do that thing we all do so badly: idolize her, assign her superhuman qualities, portray her as more than she was, which was a smart, compassionate, silly, wise, young girl who had to deal with too much too soon. She said in a recent vlog that she felt like she was fooling us all. That we all needed to know she wasn't perfect. That she gets angry and sad and frustrated - that (and she said this apologetically, mind you) there are times when she hates what has happened to her, when she hates her cancer.
(Back to that in a moment.)
So, here's how I knew Esther:
We met at LeakyCon, so briefly I didn't remember it until I found the picture we took, on Facebook. A dim, hazy outline of a young, glowing girl (who must have been the only girl I met that weekend on an oxygen tube, which sadly is the prime point of my memory) came back to me. I relearned about her through John's famous With Esther video that pretty much won the HP Alliance the $250,000 from the Chase Giving Challenge. I loved her sunny disposition. I loved that she wasn't about her cancer. I was so unbelievably touched that while I was running around LeakyCon in a whirlwind, thinking the world madness, she was making those kinds of memories and having that kind of fun.
When we won the challenge, I texted her (and cursed, twice. To a then 15-year-old. What an insane morning). She wrote:
"aaaa all I've been doing since I found out is cry congfratulations [sic] so much <3"
When we had the press conference, we spoke very briefly on Skype. Beyond all the public awesome you saw, we simply waved excitedly at each other, and when it came time to shut the connection I promised her we'd talk soon when there wasn't some major event raging behind us. She beamed at me and agreed. I blew her a kiss and told her we would be getting her and her family down to LeakyCon, no matter what.
That's it - a brief touch that somehow burned into me deeply. I hadn't been following the tweets from the night before she passed. I was blithely posting woes about not having Mockingjay, while she struggled for life. It was Andrew Slack's early morning email that was my first and last update on the fight she had lost. I was surprised by my own reaction.
In hushed morning phone calls I got the full story. I was huddled in some stairway, trying to accept, absorb, that this bright light in our community had passed. I confess I didn't know what to do - as someone that has been referred to as a leader of a community in which Esther was, especially of late, very present, I felt hamstrung. Do I post on Leaky, do I not? Do I tweet? People die all the time, why am I making a post now? In the end I asked John Green, who advised me to announce it. Then I made sure with my Leaky senior staff, who all thought we should. It was unanimous that Esther has touched this community enough to warrant that kind of treatment, that kind of break from our normal scheduling.
So, as has been rightly said, it is important to remember that while Esther was lovely and awesome, she was human.
Yet, forgive me, because I want to talk for a moment about how remarkable she was. It's important. This is someone whose life touched others. The prevailing sentiment around Twitter on Wednesday was, "I can't believe how upset I am for someone I didn't know." Whether Esther, or we, believed it or not, she had a life spark that was infectious and that is remarkable. She was someone who had time to think about, accept, and welcome the idea of death. Was she still worried and scared and mad at the lot she drew? Of course. But think about, at sixteen years old, what it means to be at peace with the idea that death is coming. Think about how that changes you and what it could do to you. What did it do to Esther? She started talking loudly and openly about love. She stopped wasting time with other, lesser words.
And then something struck me. This is from her obituary at the funeral home - a simple line:
In the end, she welcomed her death, as she did her life, with open-armed exuberance.
It reminds me of something I read once.
"But though Death searched for the third brother for many years, he was never able to find him. It was only when he had attained a great age that the youngest brother finally took off the Cloak of Invisibility and gave it to his son. And then he greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly, and, equals, they departed this life."
That's Deathly Hallows, the Tale of the Three Brothers - the basis on which it is said Harry was able to master death. He welcomed it when it was its time. He was still scared, still hurt, still human, but he welcomed it.
Does that make Esther a master of death? Without purporting to mean that being a master of death makes one perfect, I would say yes. Her cancer, her coming death, it made her part of who she was. For whatever reason they happened and whether all those things were good or bad, they happened, and Esther recognized that. That her cancer, while sucking, was now an integral part of her life and the connections she made with others. I think she connected all this - I think she thought to hate her cancer was to hate all that's happened because of it. I think she had the presence of mind to connect the bad with the good and enjoy the whole, which is what made her regret hating her cancer. For instance, she said this on her formspring:
Q: what is one thing you want to change about your life? like, I HAVE MAGICAL POWERS AND CAN MAGICALLY CHANGE THINGS type changes.
really honestly I don't think I'd change anything if I were given the chance. so many words that have been passed between the people I love are because of the bad things and the good things that have happened. and I like those words and wouldn't want them to chaAaAaAange. so, nothing.
That's remarkable. To be that age and be so full of love that you don't even want to hate the thing killing you - that is remarkable.
So while we remember that all of us - even Harry, even Esther, even all masters of Death - are human and flawed, let's not forget that it is also possible to stand out. In a hurry to remember that Esther was human, I want it not to be forgotten that she was also, in a word, remarkable.
Shine on, Esther. My last promise is not broken, only suspended for awhile. See you soon.