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It was a little over a year and a half ago that I met Katie Cooper. I don’t remember the specific day or occurrence when I met her, as many of my friends profess to recall. For me, she was a person whose presence I slowly noticed over time, like most whose lives somehow seem to participate in an odd confluence with your own, but who you don’t necessarily know particularly well.
During this past week, we have seen our community inundated with condolences — everyone wants to express how sorry they are, and the result is that so many of these messages end up sounding identical, even if they are offered with the best of intentions. It is almost as though there is a script which everyone is determined to stick to, as though consolation has become its own brand of rhetoric, with everyone borrowing from one another.
Beyond witnessing the sorrow of mutual friends, perhaps the most painful event has been witnessing the reduction of a complex life into a few words: Senior; Art History and Classics; taught ballroom dancing. There is a rationale to the brevity, and yet it seems irrationally brief at the same time.
Even though I saw Katie Cooper on what seemed to be a daily basis, I don’t have that many discernable memories of her. She was simply there every day. Perhaps this is what occurs when you see someone often enough, or maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention. As people — as a community — we don’t typically envision occurrences of this type in other towns as affecting us. It always slightly misses us, and then it misses us again, until the day that it doesn’t. We don’t really think about it until that day, and then we think about it endlessly.
Perhaps the first vivid memory I have of Katie is the day, about a year ago, when she was involved in an accident and had to receive stiches on her head. A small group of friends and I took her back to her home after the accident. We traveled first to her home and then to her sorority house; a friend and herself commiserating the entire way.
In that moment, Katie’s primary concern wasn’t the injury she had sustained, or the prospect of remaining awake for many hours because of a potential concussion. Rather, her main worry was the reaction her family would have to the incident and her injury. What had occurred was not the result of her own error — how could that fact be communicated to her family? This was what she continuously discussed on the journey home.
After walking and hearing this concern multiple times, I spoke in response. I’d like to think that I didn’t, but I’m fairly sure that I snapped at her somewhat when I said it:
“They’ll understand. That’s what families do. That’s what families are for.”
Katie recovered from her injury, and her family’s love for her didn’t wane.
I saw her plenty of times in the year after that. I know that I did, even though I wouldn’t be able to relay each separate occurrence, though another in particular stands out.
A mutual acquaintance of ours — indeed, a very dear friend of mine — had lost a parent. Several of us were in a room, Katie included. It was one of those situations that no number of words can accurately describe, and in that moment everyone there was at a loss for words as well. My friend stood to the side of the room. Only Katie spoke:
“I’m sorry,” she said, and the room remained quiet.
Walking around in our daily lives, it is often easy to forget how much of our world is shaped by those who we interact with; those who are our friends and family. It is only when the balance is shifted, when someone in our life disappears, that we suddenly recognize the multitude of ways that their presence affected ourselves and those around us.
As the academic year comes to an end, and as we continue to heal as a community, each of us should move forward while contemplating how our own words and actions influence others. If there is a single lesson to be learned from the self-centered individual who caused these recent events, it is this: If you prioritize yourself over others; if you selfishly expect to be awarded affection while giving nothing in return; if you act as though you alone are the only one that matters, in the end, that is exactly what you will be left with — yourself, by yourself.
My condolences go out to the friends and family members of those whose lives created something worth remembering, and who positively affected others with their words and actions.
Jonathan Rogers wishes the best to all the victims and their families.