Eulogy For a Stranger

Edited by Ann Marie Elpa 

The following is my attempt to write a eulogy for a person whom I did not know. I ask you to first bear with me, and second, forgive me, because this may sound painfully self-centered, as grief tends to be. A person dies and we are sad because there is so much more they could have done that they will never get to do now, but we are also sad because that person was good and made us happy and they have suddenly – unfairly – been taken from us. Since the above sentence has exhausted the extent of my philosophical mind, I will now instead give you more insight into the details of my personal impersonal grief.

A plane crashed in Iran on Wednesday. 176 people died. Six were U of T students. One was my sister’s classmate and friend, the latter being unknown to me the first and only time I encountered him. He was jokingly mocking my sister and I bristled at his comments, only for her to tell me afterwards that he was a friend and one of the smartest people she knew. I thought this to be very high praise and immediately looked up his Facebook profile, which reflected such a vast variety of achievements so as to satisfy me that yes, he was, in fact, very intelligent and accomplished.

This two-sentence anecdote is frankly pathetic compared to the outpouring of grief I have read online following news of his death. I do not use the word “outpouring” lightly; the essays friends have posted on his Facebook wall read as overflowing torrents of pain, shock, disbelief, and above all, praise. He was their inspiration, their advisor, their mentor. Wise but never pretentious, ambitious but always humble. Many mention his legacy and how they hope to carry his spirit with them throughout their lives.

I cannot begin to fathom the depths of the authors’ devastation, but I have clung to the eulogies they have written in a way which surprises and confuses me. I peer through windows into the life of a person I will never know, reading wistful reminiscences and loving descriptions that carry weight I can never understand, as if I am trying to conjure up a definitive image of this person outside of the list of academic accomplishments by which I initially totally defined him. How naïve is it to think a life, however short, can be so easily reconstructed?

With previous tragedies, I have been guilty of reading statistics and death tolls without giving much weight to each individual loss of life. Though I can never truly know any of the people who were on Flight 752, through the words of those who knew him best, I have been lucky enough to gain some insight into one. He was giving, passionate, funny, genuine, sincere, supportive, and kind. He had done so much already and could have done so much more, and I regret that I never got to know him. May his soul rest in peace.