The Rainbow Connection, From Cousin Andrew

The next time it rains and there is just a bit of sun in the sky notice the rainbow but do not focus on the bow itself, focus on either side. You will notice a most interesting phenomenon; one side will be full of light and the other will be near darkness. The presence and absence of light on either side of the bow is due to the way the light scatters creating the colors of the visible spectrum.

Zachary Misleh was a rainbow: full of life, joy, laughter, and color scattering these qualities in all directions. I always knew him to be caring, thoughtful, and compassionate. Always quick with Blazing Saddles reference to bring levity to any situation and the attentiveness to sit and talk to catch up after periods of not seeing each other. Rainbows are always in the sky because light is always present and the rain is the vehicle that creates this beautiful phenomenon.

Zach may your light and beautiful color forever shine on you and your family, especially in this time of great sorrow. May you always find comfort in the brighter side of the rainbow and look beyond the darkness. We are short one incredible person in this world but as long as there is Light, His Light, in this world we know you are always with us, especially when it rains. Rest in Paradise Zachary.

After the Funeral, from Zach's cousin Andrew

The first time you are invited to someone else's family get together it's always a nerve racking experience, especially if you get invited to a Misleh family function. If you like to eat and drink, scotch mostly, and play nickel ante poker you're in great company. They are always loud, hilarious, and full of good times and even better people.  

Zach Misleh you managed to invite a whole mess of people into our family over these past days and I, personally, am honored that I could celebrate your life with all of them. As your dad said when he was reminiscing about the past you really did touch the lives of the hundreds of new family members we all gained in your honor. You have left a void in our family but with all the caring and support we've received you can be sure we will get through this together.

I know you are out there somewhere tuning guitars with Jimi Hendrix and practicing vocals with Chris Cornell and whomever else is gonna rock with you for eternity. Don't forget to find Gido at the nearest poker table, lay-z-boy, or scotch tasting and please tell him hi. Until we see each other again.

He shined the brightest when he was with the kids. Classmate reflection

Dear Dan and Susie,

I’m writing this a day before it’ll be three months that Zach’s been gone (September 12, 2017) . It hasn’t been easy for me, so I can’t imagine how hard it’s been for your family. Your words of hope and of action really spoke to me at the funeral. It’s easy to feel like there’s a gaping hole in our communities, and, while I don’t think it’ll every disappear, your call to be more like Zach felt like a way to carry him with me.

I’ll be the first to admit that Zach and I didn’t always get along. We both had pretty strong personalities and ended up clashing sometimes at CFMS and even sometimes beyond. Even in our moments of difference, I still valued his strength, compassion, and unique way of seeing things. My favorite memories are when we came together and worked together. I don’t know if you remember, but we were Model UN partners for that New York trip his 6th grade year, and we represented Tanzania together. He was passionate about our issues in committee and such a goofball outside of it. I remember he and Jamie tied their ties around their heads and that one morning, we went out to breakfast, and he insisted on ordering the biggest dish on the menu and then almost made himself sick trying to finish it. Much later, we were co-counselors for Peace camp a few summers ago. He shined the brightest when he was with the kids. He listened patiently to long, rambling stories, laughed at their jokes, and encouraged their ideas. I remember this one afternoon it was brutally hot outside, and we were both tired, but the kids wanted to play amoeba tag. I begged off and supervised from the shade, but he found the energy to run around with them.

It’s been hard going off to college and leaving behind the people who knew and appreciated Zach. I’m at Pomona College in California. I love my school so far, but I knew no one going into school, and Jamila’s brother Rafi is one of the only people in the area who knew Zach. As I left for college, I made a conscious effort to take on some of my favorite qualities that Zach had, his ability to listen well, connect with everyone he met, and his generosity and compassion towards those he cared about. I think it’s easy when you’re in a new place to focus on yourself, your feelings, and how overwhelming the new experience is, but Zach’s example and his light pushed me to break this mold. I want to thank you both for reminding us of that example at the funeral. I believe that I’ve cultivated close friendships so early in college because I listened more carefully and connected more genuinely than I would have had I not been consciously trying to follow his example and your call to action.  I’m going to keep carrying him in my heart. I’m going to make more friends, seek out more people who are different or seem like the other, and get involved in service to others in my surrounding community here. I was afraid that I would be sad and lonely around this time of the month when I was remembering him more, but I’m just sad. I don’t feel alone because Zach has helped me make friends here.

I just want to say thank you again. Thank you for your beautiful words and your courageous hope on that hard day. Zach continues and will continue to bring people together.

Peace to you both,


Zach Erases Doubt, Reassures

By Ed Powers, Family Friend

March 8, 2018

As I deal with clients who are frequently suicidal, I keep a picture of Zach on my desk to remind me not miss any indicators while performing assessments.

Last night I had to deal with a young lady who was BiPolar and reporting passive suicidal thoughts. After close to an hour, things just were not adding up. Ultimately, I recommended admission to a Crisis Stabilization Unit here in Portland, ME.

As I was sitting at my desk defending my assessment with the on call Psychiatrist, I found myself questioning my own clinical skills. It was late, and I was tired. I looked up from my desk to see ole Zach smiling right at me. His eyes literally caught mine. I actually teared up, and lost any sense of doubt. Zach's spirit was very evident to me in that office last night. When I came home, I woke up Rachel to tell her. She also believes Zach was there. What a gift.

Summers With Zach

by Elizabeth Harrison

I'm from a family of four girls, and all three of my sisters and myself had the pleasure of working with Zach at Cheverly Pool. Tall, eccentric, with a head full of hair (and occasionally sideburns and/or muttonchops), Zach was always a joy to be around, on and off the clock.

I still remember vividly the day I reconnected with Zach in June of 2014. It had been awhile, as the last time I'd seen him had probably been four years prior, during our swim team days. He was a rising junior, about to have his 17th birthday, and was getting ready to go on a trip to Mexico to do community service work.

It was his first day on the job, and as it was my first summer working there as well, I only had a couple weeks of experience on him. On one of our breaks we went to the five feet to swim and get some much needed relief from the sweltering, humid heat. We talked and talked for at least two hours, discussing high school, music, movies, everything under the sun (pun intended).

I saw his red Nalgene bottle and commented on the Vespoli sticker stuck on the side of the plastic. Curious, he asked how I knew what it was. I told him I rowed crew my freshman and sophomore years of high school, and he responded immediately and excitedly. 

Z: No way! I do crew too, but I kind of messed up my back so I can't row right now. Where'd you sit?

Me: Six seat! Well, depending on the rigging of the boat. Sometimes I'd sit 5, if it was starboard rigged. I'm a port, so--

Z: Whaaaaat! I'm a port too, and six seat!

Then, at the same time, we both said "steam engine," laughing. It was such a funny coincidence that we were both six seat ports! We talked about being the "strongest" in the boat, compared split times, and discussed that regatta scene in The Social Network.

We quickly bonded over how much we loved the sport, the way it was team-oriented... how much you had to rely on your peers to make it work. It was clear from the way he spoke about them that he deeply loved his teammates, and was heartbroken he wouldn't be able to row that fall-- not just because of his love for the sport, but because he felt like he was letting them down. From this first conversation with him, I could tell how much Zach loved people. Over the years as I got to know him better, I can say with certainty he was always working his hardest to push everyone around him to be the best version of themselves.

Over the course of that summer, we realized we had much in common, from being huge fans of musicians like Fleetwood Mac and Frank Ocean, to TV, like Breaking Bad and House of Cards. We passed the time as all lifeguards do, listening to music, talking, swimming, etc., and got to learn the best techniques for doing a can opener from Alexis, Zach's self-professed favorite lifeguard/operator.

He loved splashing the little kids who would wait desperately on the side of the pool by the diving boards, chanting "Splash us! Splash us! Splash us!" Being as tall as he was, they loved when "Lifeguard Zach" would make an appearance on the high dive... he practically guaranteed an incoming tsunami. I remember one time he gave in to their requests to do a belly flop off the HIGH DIVE (who does that?!), showcasing his utter selflessness. And, I'll note, he was one of the few people whose splash could reach the lifeguards all the way in the chair.

That was just one of the ways Zach's beautiful personhood lent itself to him being a great coworker. He was extremely dedicated to helping people, even in the smallest of ways, at the pool. Bandaid needed? Zach got it. Swim test? No worries, Zach's on it.

One of the things that made lifeguarding so great was working with people you genuinely liked talking to-- since most of the job was sitting at the guard table, you had to like your coworkers or you were basically doomed. I always felt happy when I saw Zach's name on the schedule because I knew the day would be good. You knew he'd show up on time, would have a fun conversation at the table, maybe a music related debate, definitely a laugh. 

He also loved DJing the guard stand for us, which was great for me because we had similar taste in music... minus the metal. I remember working with him the day after Frank Ocean's newest album Blonde had just been released, following an agonizing four year wait. We were all psyched to finally hear it, and Zach was the operator that day and hooked it up to the speakers.

"Frank's album finally came out!" he'd said. "I've been waiting so long for this, oh my god. Well, I guess we've all been waiting so long for it."

It was small, but I remember that so well. "I guess we've all been waiting for it," he said to correct himself. Thinking back on it, that showed me Zach's love for other people, the way he viewed people as a team. That together we're stronger than we are individually. I might be grasping at straws here, but given his dedication to helping people, and the things he gravitated towards-- community service, crew, lifeguarding-- I don't think it's that big a leap to make. He was so excited for all of us working that day to finally hear the album, together. And I'm so glad we got to, because it was beautiful.

I hope these anecdotes and pictures can help you to visualize what some of those 11 am - 9 pmhour long days at the pool looked like for Zach. I'm so grateful to have known him and worked with him for as long as I did. Cheverly Pool will always remind me of his kind, giving spirit, and I'll always cherish the memories I had with him there.

08/09/15  | Sleepy on the job, apparently!

08/09/15 | Sleepy on the job, apparently!

Shy Zachary by Aunt Elizabeth (Misleh) Lowry

When Zach was born in 1997, I had just finished up my sophomore year of college at Ohio University, and my brothers and sisters were still having kids at the rate of about one a year so I guess to me, it was cool but nothing out of the ordinary. I was a young college kid--there was no social media, I'm sure I got a phone call or something from someone but I can't even recall if we could email photos back then. My point being, although I am sure I met him as a baby, try as I might, my first memory of Zach isn't until he was about three or four. 

Jay and I went to Maryland to visit with our college friends and Dan and Susie and family in the summer of 2000 or 2001. Although I did my fair share of babysitting when I was younger, and I had lots of nieces and nephews, I wasn't around little kids regularly and even more foreign to me were these kids, just because of the distance separating us. Nonetheless, we were excited to stay the night and enjoy some time together.

I remember sitting in their old living room, and Anna and Ben were around, talking to us when we arrived, but Zach was still upstairs. After a while, Zach appeared, walking down the steps with one of those fake noses and glasses disguises, and he said "hi" but he didn't really want to talk. Susie told me he was shy and wanted to be called by a name other than Zach, though I forget what it was. 

"Okay," I thought, "This is weird, but what do I know about kids?" So we sat down with them and eventually Zach impressed Jay with his love of Star Wars and legos and I kind of let them be in their own little world of boy stuff. I assumed he'd outgrow it one day--and boy did he. 

Years later, I had my own kids, and they both went through shy phases and phases of not wanting to be with strangers. But I always remember the kid in the fake nose and glasses and I think about what he taught me about how kids don't always do what you want, when you want, but if you're patient, they come around eventually. 

Papa "Spaulding" and Grandson "Jamison" by John J. Patridge


October 1, 2017

Grandchildren are such a joy.  Nana and I have been blessed to have nine of them, starting with Ben who will be 28 soon, all the way to Julia who will begin college next year.  Each one is special and each is different from the other in personality and interests - but upbeat and fun to be with.  Is there a favorite?  Absolutely not.  Our lives have been enriched by seeing each one progress from the baby years to adulthood.  We have always looked forward to the holiday visits, and to the one week stay with each grandchild at age 12 or so.  But I have to say that I developed a unique form of kinship with Zach.  

I have been a lifelong fan of the Marx Bros.  I have all their movies and have seen each one multiple times. So, when Zach and Emma flew out for their week with Nana and Papa, I looked at this as an opportunity to expand their intellectual horizons and expose them to the zany comedy of Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo.  Zach took to them like a duck to water; Emma, not so much!  Zach couldn’t get enough.  His favorite was Animal Crackers, which we saw more than once.  In that film, Capt. Spaulding (Groucho) has just returned from a successful hunting trip in Africa accompanied byhis field secretary, Jamison (Zeppo).  Capt. Spaulding boasted that one morning he shot an elephant in his pajamas.  When Zach heard the punch line, “How he got into my pajamas, I’ll never know”, he started laughing so hard, I thought he would never stop.  All the time Emma is sitting there rolling her eyes, while Nana would look into the room with a quizzical look.  We continued watching the films and Zach continued to laugh and laugh.

Anyway, I don’t remember how it began, but Zach and I started a game where I would pretend to be Capt. Spaulding and he would be Jamison.  Over a period of time this fun charade escalated to the point that we would actually assume the roles.  So, for a number of years, I would call the family home and simply ask for Jamison.  With either, Susie, Dan or Anna answering, there would be a pause, and then “Oh”, and then I would hear “Zach”, Capt. Spaulding is on the line”.  And during that brief conversation, we played the game.  It would go something like this:  “Captain, it’s good to hear from you; what can I do for you?  Well, Jamison, I just wanted to be sure that all is well at home and that you are keeping everyone in line.  Of course, Captain, the situation here is under control and I’m on top of it”, and so it went until we couldn’t think of anything else to talk about and we would revert to Papa and Zach.  It was fun for both of us and Zach engaged in the role playing with the same unbridled enthusiasm that he did with just about everything else.  He was a pure delight.


Story from Joanna, Classmate of Zach's from St. John's University and the Ozanam program

When I got back from Puerto Rico, I did the same thing with my mom as Zach did with you all. I stood in the kitchen and talked about how much fun I had, how much I cared about everyone and how I was going to miss everyone while I was in Rome. I repeated the same stories and feelings to each family member I have seen this summer.

They all eventually asked me one thing, "Did you learn any Spanish?" The truth is, not really. I have never been good at learning languages. I hated Spanish class in high school, and felt inadequate in terms of my abilities to adapt to different countries. But, I always responded with "I was able to read a paragraph towards the end, but that was it." People were often impressed, as I am known for my inability to learn new languages. The truth is, I could not have done this without Zach.

We were all sitting, waiting to get a tour of the Governor's mansion. We were trying to pass the time, so I started to read a big sign. Zach was sitting next to me, and realized what I was doing. We sat and read aloud the words we knew, and took turns guessing the words we didn't. By the end, we had learned that when Apollo 11 went to the Moon, we had brought a Puerto Rican flag, and had brought it back as a gift.

I think about that a lot. How I would have never learned that without him. I would have given up and never figured that out. As we go abroad, if there's one lesson I could take with me, it's that one. That if you take your time, and maybe get help from friends, you can actually do a lot more than you think. 

Nico Mora: DeMatha Rowing Dedication

I’m a current senior at DeMatha, and I stroked the second varsity 8 last year. I made this video called FYBR (First Year Being Rich) to show how much the crew team has improved from previous years. I dedicated the video to Zack, because I believe he’d think its a dope vid, and because he really elevated the program. I have memories of listening to DMX with Zack before winter practices because we dreaded erging, but the music got us in the mindset, and I can truly say I would not have progressed this far without his help. 


Nico Mora ‘18

Classmate Chris Chorbajian reflects on Zach, Foo Fighters and "Home"

Hi there! I saw people sharing their stories about Zach and I thought I had to share mine. Allow me to introduce myself and how I knew Zach.

I am Chris Chorbajian, and Zach was a fellow musician. Now to be clear, Zach and I weren't super close. But I still considered him someone I could lean on if I needed help. Matter of fact I have before. One thing Zach and I shared was our intense love for music. Zach was multitalented as I am myself, and we talked occasionally about music. The way we actually bonded was over the Foo Fighters. Zach and I had a great respect for Dave Grohl and how much of an amazing multitalented musician he was. And one song that I like to play that the Foo Fighters never play in concert is the song "Home". Home is a song that isn't screaming, or yelling, or shouting. It's quiet, it's gentle, yet it's full of emotion and passion. There's a video that some of the band members recorded of Dave playing it by himself. And a quote he made (not in the video) is that when he plays this song, the Recording studio turned into a little church. It went from an everyday space to sacred. And they never play it in concert. And it baffled me. It's such an amazing song, why wouldn't they?

 Well, getting back to Zach, whenever he brought his guitar to school, I'd ask to play, and we'd show each other things back and forth. And then one day while practicing in the basement of the music building, he caught me playing "Home" on the piano. He sat outside listening as I sang and as I played and waited respectfully until I finished. And when he came in, he explained how he had been listening and I said "Well why didn't you just come in?" And he said "I have great reverence for that song, I thought you'd ought to finish." And then we got into whatever we were talking about. But that's what I liked about Zach. While he always knew when to have fun and be an open and free spirit, he had great respect for something like that.

 A year passed and it's the spring of 2017. My grandmother passed away, I had to drop Calculus, and life was pretty weird for me. And I discovered a knew band on YouTube under NPR's "Tiny Desk" concerts. And this band was called "Red Baraat". It's like a mix of Gogo music along with traditional Indian music. And it's absolutely amazing and I thought immediately of Zach. During our Senior year band trip, I was in percussion ensemble and we were playing a song called "A Parting Shot". There's this part where we are all on tom toms or bongos or whatever drum you can name and we were playing this sick gogo beat. And I remember looking in the crowd and there was Zach, bouncing around with everyone else. But it was only a glimpse as I had to read the music to keep along. 

So I sent Zach this song, and we got into it. Zach said "wow brother, this stuff is amazing, this is the best thing I've seen of 2017." And we talked a little more. And I told him like hey, life isn't too great my grandmother had passed, and I was feeling a little lost because I had to drop calc because I was failing and it was not a good time. And he said to me "Chris, as someone who has had lots of trails and tribulations, I can tell you for a fact, it gets better." And that made me feel better. Zach really helped me that day and he helped me cope with the loss of my grandmother.

I remember when I got the call about Zach's passing, my heart sank. All I could think of was Zach's radiant smile that could lighten the mood and ambience of any room. And I was sad because the wake and funeral all conflicted with my school work I was doing during the summer semester. 

A month passed since Zach's Funeral, and it was quiet in my household. I decided to sit down and dust off our piano. I was alone and I started to work on the song I have been writing for the past 9 months or so (it's getting there) and I found myself playing "Home" again. And as I started to play I remember Zach and then it turned from the song of the Foo Fighters, to Zach's Song. And I could barely play the song because my eyes just watered up so much, and my voice trembled. So much so, it sounded like I was mumbling the words. And when i finally finished it I held my head in my hands and I was sobbing. 

While Zach and I may have not been the closest of friends, he was there when I needed him and to me, that's the best friend you could ever have. 

I hope my story can help shed even a small light on how much light Zach brought into the world. 

Much love to the Mislehs and the rest of my DeMatha Brotherhood,

-Chris Chorbajian, '16

PS, here is the link to the song "Home" in case no one has heard it yet, or they just want to listen to it again:

Reflections of an 11-Year Old: SHARED BY CATHERINE MARESCA, ZACH'S CATEchist for afternoon atrium

On 4/15/09 Zach wrote and drew:

"Your body is a temple of the holy spirit" Corinthians 1

a cross + a human person = "Cosmic Communion"

On the back he wrote:

The meaning of this sentence (the quote above) and Cosmic Communion go together because all plants and animals have bodies they live in and therefore they all have a temple of holy spirit inside them.

A worthy reflection for all of us. May Zach's spirit abide within your "temple".


Catherine Maresca

Hospitality in NYC: A Remembrance by Sam Misleh, Zach's First Cousin

This is the story of the trip I took this past April to NYC and the time I spent with Zach:

I was in between jobs and also what would become in between undergraduate and graduate school. I call it an unintentional year off. I had some money saved up, and wanted to spend it on a trip to somewhere I had never been. I realized it would be more fun (and vastly cheaper) if I also picked a place in which family or friends lived. New York City was the first thing that came to mind, and Zach was the person I decided to visit, almost immediately.

I texted him about it and he was immediately on board, and I could tell he was excited to share the awesome city in which he lived. I realized I would be staying in a dorm room which had limited visitor hours that might be a pain to work around, but I didn’t care. I was going to spend time with my cousin and friend in a new city. This was especially great because he and I never really got much in-person one-on-one time, as we lived states apart growing up, and in the chaos of family reunions it was hard to talk about much else beyond the topic at hand in whatever small subcommittee of cousins we found ourselves in. Over the years we definitely bonded and we were able to pick right up where we left off each time we were together, but I knew this would be different and truly, uniquely special. And it was.

My first day in New York, Zach took the train into the city from Queens and we planned to meet in Times Square. We were on the phone laughing trying to find each other with confusing (to me) street names and numbers and landmarks he knew of where he tried to wait for me. When we finally found each other, we practically bumped into each other on accident, and we gave each other a hug with our phones in our hands and our call still connected, and laughed even harder.

We quickly decided to walk down to Central Park, as the beauty and remarkability of advertising was lost on both of us. Walking those blocks we talked about politics, music, social justice, New York, how school was going for him, how whatever I was doing was going for me, and much more. When we got to what I soon found out was one of the many entrances, I mentioned that the Metropolitan Museum of Art was nearby. He started laughing thinking that was the funniest thing, because, even though the Met is in Central Park, it was blocks and blocks away from where we were. We both laughed at my tourist’s ignorance and proceeded into the park.

We walked down a main path, with artists selling their art and people hurrying past us, and he was explaining everything he knew about the park and was smiling from ear to ear telling me about all the cool things that happened there. I just listened and took it all in. It was great. We sat and talked and listened to the sounds of the park while eating falafel sandwiches from a sketchy food vendor. He suddenly said, “I have to take you to the coolest spot in the park!” I forget what it was called, but after walking a while we went up to the roof of this building with an amazing 360 degree view of the city surrounding the park, complete with a view of ponds and trees throughout the park. It truly was a beautiful view and we stood and looked for a while. I’ll always remember that view.

Later that evening, after Zach was done with class, I successfully maneuvered the train and was able to make it back to his dorm at St. Johns in Queens. He met me at the bus stop and said, “So do you mind hanging out with my friends and crashing at their place instead of my dorm?” I said I didn’t, so after we grabbed sandwiches from a local shop, we walked a few blocks to his friends’ house off campus. We hung out, ate our sandwiches, and ended up watching some Netflix, Louis C.K. stand-up comedy to be exact, and I can honestly say that I have never seen anyone laugh harder than I saw Zach laugh that night, and seeing him so happy made me laugh with even greater joy than normal. It was a great night that I will never forget.

Zach graciously offered to keep my luggage at his dorm while I caught the train to explore more of the city on the last day of my trip. When I wanted to come back and get my luggage to go to the airport, it turned out that I had not told him the time I needed to grab my things and go ahead of time, and he was in Manhattan doing a school project while I was stuck in Queens. He dropped everything and called his friend, and the company he kept ended up being as kind as helpful as he was. She got me into his room and I was able to get my stuff and make my flight.

That morning, before I caught the train, Zach had taken me to his favorite bagel place. It was fantastic - easily the best bagel I had ever had - and I hope to go back someday, and not just because of a bagel. Even though neither of us knew it at the time, that morning ended up being the last time I ever saw Zach. I said goodbye and gave him a big hug, but I thought I would also see him later that day to pick up my things, and thought I would see him for years and years to come. Now, I know that I won’t, but I know he will, in a sense, always be with me. I also know that from now on New York City, Queens, Central Park, falafel, bagels, and many more things will always be associated with Zach and his memory - and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I love you, Zach.


The Civil War Reenactor

by Emma Chabolla

My cousin Zach and I were waiting with our moms to board a plane en route to Stockton, CA for the traditional grandchildren's trip to visit Nana and Papa. While waiting at the terminal, we spotted a man dressed in an authentic Confederate Civil War uniform, complete with the fake gun (I have no idea how he got away with that). Aunt Susie and my mom said goodbye and sent us onto the plane, hoping we wouldn't have to sit next to the reenactor, who, by the way, was talking to anyone who would listen to him about the Civil War. Unlucky for us, it was a Southwest flight so seats are first come-first serve and we ended up seated next to this man. I was in the middle seat and Zach was in the window; we exchanged disappointed and uncomfortable glances as he sat down and began trying to start a conversation with us. Before the flight took off, the man got up to go to the bathroom. Zach, feeling he was the responsible 'adult' on the trip and had to take care of me (I was 11 and he was 12), traded seats with me so I wouldn't have to sit next to him. That is something I will always remember fondly about Zach: his selflessness and willingness to do something kind to others, even if it meant he had to listen to a Civil War buff talk to him for 3 hours.

The Beautiful Boy

by Caroline Langston

It’s barely even summer and already, in our house it is the Summer of the Guys.

Our son is thirteen now, and in the last few months, the world has opened to him: he and his two best neighborhood friends start planning the day almost as soon as it has started.

Freed to stay at home alone while his younger sister is at camp, he can ride his bike to tennis clinic at the community pool, then pedal back to join the guys for an afternoon of critical dissection of the late 1990s/early 2000s television canon: FrasierThe OfficeEverybody Loves Raymond. (Yes, there’s a parent around.)

They flop across floors and sofas, legs sunburned and mosquito-bitten, then turn on a dime, deciding to head down to the neighborhood creek for a hike or off on a bike ride up the steep hill where our troubled local hospital looms, underfunded and un-reimbursed, its helicopter pad beacons flashing white, red, and green.

“He neither toils nor spins,” I once heard tell of a Mississippi Delta lady’s quip about her son, and I look at these boys and I often recall that anecdote. I study them with an almost anthropological interest, and it strikes me that masculinity is something precious and we do not treasure it enough.

That’s not to negate the value of movements to enable others to speak up in their own voices—I, too, was once a girl whose opinions were discounted, and I still, as a woman, get interrupted. I am also well aware that boys of color have never had the freedom and agency to move, seamlessly and with joyous entitlement, through the world. But they ought to be able to, as well—and on my watch, they will.

I just look at the guys splayed across my living room furniture, and my heart catches. I see them as vulnerable and full of grace, and I want with all my will to hear them, and help them.

Just a couple of weeks ago, our town tragically lost one of its finest young sons, and we are going to be a long time mourning him.

He was the youngest child of the family, and had the kind of parents—nuanced, sensitive, faithfully religious but with a sense of humor, too—that anybody would envy. He came to my children’s Montessori school in upper elementary after being homeschooled, and he was happily contrarian and sui generis.

My husband taught a music class as his school co-op job then, and this boy was one of his most enthusiastic students. For the final school performance—which was to take place in a 1920s Catholic church overseen by a strict Argentine order of monks—my husband coached this boy through the Jimi Hendrix rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and when the day arrived, the sound bent the airwaves in the dusty Gothic-style basilica, and curled back the curtains that hung over the old-style confessionals.

My husband continued to teach him a little bit of electric guitar, and occasionally they would get together and “just jam,” but otherwise, this young man went on growing up the way that young people do in a closely-knit neighborhood—seen out of the corner of the eye, or greeted by us at the pool and Mass and holiday fireworks.

Except that this boy had a reputation for the intensity of his kindness, his compassion. He radiated with the glow from the adoration a youngest child typically gets (I know—I’m one myself), but he was never self-seeking, never entitled. After he died, I learned that he would sleep out on the family’s deck on Christmas in solidarity with the homeless.

He went to high school, and then before we knew it, was headed off to college. He grew tall, and his hair got long. He came to be so handsome that I, a middle-aged matron, had to avert my eyes.

I learned that he died when one of my best neighborhood friends called me at work in tears to relay the news, and then the day—the week—fractured even for those of us who were on the periphery of his life, joined only through school, church, and the sidewalks that are our neighborhood’s lifeblood.

My son had already heard the news that day—at the 7-11, where he had ridden on his bike with his friends. My husband was off working in California, and so taking a child on each side, I walked to the outdoor statue of the Blessed Mother at my husband’s parish down the street, and laid three roses at her feet.

The wake was the following Sunday evening, at a nearby funeral home. It was a hot summer night, and the air conditioning strained to cover the scent of bodies, air freshener, and below that, the smell of long-ago cigarettes buried in the plaster walls and carpets. I was plunged deeply into recollection of my own losses, though I cried at how my children—of their own accord—stood stoically in the formal clothes that they had insisted on wearing.

Hundreds of people were there: It took us a full hour and forty-five minutes for our little family to wind through the receiving line that snaked through all the funeral home’s strange set-like parlors. All the neighbors were there; all the boys and girls. White and black in equal measure. I gave a hug twice to a neighbor, at two places on the line an hour apart, when we caught each other by eye and both got close to tears.

At last we arrived to give his parents a hug—I was humbled, for their greeting was personal beyond what I would have ever expected. And then we were at the open casket, and I kneeled, and prayed. Around me, others just sat. It was as close a vision to eternity as I have ever seen.

Bless the parents. Bless this boy.