I want to talk a little bit about Danny, who should have turned 25 today. He was a funny, outgoing friend of mine from college. We hung out in the same circles for all of freshman year, and although we drifted apart after that, I’d still see him regularly. During our senior year, we were back in the same dormitory again, both a little bit less juvenile, maybe a bit more worried about the future. But I never knew Danny not to have a smile on regardless of the situation. He was witty and good with puns; he liked to make a fool of himself by cross-dressing for Halloween or Purim (which, in his words, “is just Jewish Halloween”); he really brought an easy vivacity to every social gathering.
At times there was tension between us, mostly due, if I remember correctly, to my being disapproving of his utter silliness and his considering me a stick in the mud. Also, he was very involved in the Jewish community and I was a leader in the Christian fellowship, so at first I viewed our religious activities as in competition. That was stupid, obviously, and fortunately by Senior year we were instead trying to coordinate interfaith events for all students to attend and benefit from. During honors exam season of senior spring, I was spending most of my time in the Jewish library, and sometimes he would be there, too. We’d talk about faith for hours instead of doing our work.
By the time we graduated and parted ways, I greatly respected Danny and hoped we’d keep in touch. But we didn’t. I left the country for two years, and he began teaching. I didn’t hear much from him… Two years ago, I left a birthday greeting on his Facebook wall.
And then, exactly three weeks ago, just as the church service was beginning, I got a phone call from Sara. She told me that Danny had committed suicide a few days prior, and that she just wanted to make sure I knew before the news went public. She didn’t know any details, but she was aware that he hadn’t been doing too well for a few months. I never got any more information.
It was a complete shock. I didn’t know what to do or say. After Sara hung up, I walked back into the sanctuary and sat down, mind blank. I couldn’t help but notice that the songs we were singing were (cruelly, it seemed) all about life. “Jesus is alive” … “I will live, a child in awe…” How can I sing about life right now? I thought. Everyone was standing and clapping, singing, “Lord, You are good and your mercy endures forever…” I was angry about the joy in the room; it felt so incongruous and inappropriate in the context of what my heart was feeling.
And the rest of the week was unreal. I’d study or go to lecture and keep my thoughts on school, but then, out of the blue, one thought would just take over and refuse to leave: Danny is dead. I couldn’t process it, couldn’t talk to anyone about it, couldn’t attend the memorial on the other side of the country. I couldn’t do anything except read heartbreaking post after heartbreaking post left by friends as they appeared on his Facebook wall.
But I know that I process better through writing than through speaking, so that is why I’m dedicating this post to Danny. His death clearly affected me deeply, but I like to think that his life has left a greater impact. I learned a lot about Judaism from him, of course, and also about the importance of interfaith dialogue. I figure it’d also be worthwhile if I let loose a little bit more often for the sake of raising my friends’ spirits; Danny was very good at that, and it seems to be what people remember most fondly about him. The world has lost a good teacher, a good friend, and a source of joy and compassion. He will be dearly missed.
Happy birthday, Danny. Rest in peace.
Word of the Day: mensch, a loanword from Yiddish, means a person of integrity and honor. Danny was a real mensch… perhaps the menschiest of them all!
P.S. If you or someone you know if suffering from depression, know that help is available and that it is never a sign of weakness to seek it. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255, available 24/7, and you can also visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.