A slight breeze sifts through the stuffy air, so dense and warm to the touch. It blows the flickering of a hundred candles as the smooth sounds of the “Hey Jude” float through the air. Voices fill in half-choked verses as hundreds of arms hold each other close, swaying to the comforting beat. The same sorrowful feeling resounds through each and every heart. A cry escapes from one of the mourners, “We love you, Julian!” Half-laughs, half-sobs follow as all feel the truth of the grief-stricken cry.
It is not often that someone can bring people together, closer than they ever imagined in happiness and compassion-into a family. This is especially difficult in a short five months, but somehow Julian David did. He had a way of making everybody he met feel special and as if anything they imagined was possible. He changed people- helping them grow and realize their full potential. In his open kindness and love for every person he encountered, he was able to break down walls miles high and help people open up and embrace one another. He did this exact thing for me.
Before I met Julian, I didn’t really let people in. I only let a select few into my true self and into my heart. I had my reasons, and I didn’t want to be that way, constantly pushing myself to open up. I could never quite figure out how. I even went across the world a couple of times to do so.
Then only a couple of days after arriving in Thailand, I met a boy with a smile of sunshine, a way of saying things in his South-African accent that made everything sound positive and an easy-going, and an optimistic attitude to go with it all. It felt like meeting an old friend, like we knew each other on another level. Strangely, I knew I could tell him anything, and he would accept me wholly for who I was. The walls I had before simply vanished.
As time went on, our friendship grew closer. I could talk with him about things I could talk with few about. He simply understood and helped me through. He became like a teacher of sorts, helping me to find my true self and embrace that person. Julian helped me find my way back to optimism and growing from my experiences, no matter how positive or negative they were.
With his help to embrace and love my true self and to see the world optimistically once again, I began to follow his lead and open myself up. I started to let people in more than I had before and began to truly accept each person for themselves and love them. I also began to trust people and rely on them in a way I was not courageous enough to before. I didn’t realize this was happening or how deeply I had been impacted by Julian. I don’t think any of us had.
But, I guess Julian still had one lesson to teach me and others. On the fateful day of May 8th, I learned what true loss feels like. I still remember that day as if it were yesterday.
Everything felt as if it moved in slow motion. Thai police walked around the Thai housing. My friends face turned a stark white. My heart dropped to my abdomen. A feeling like a rush of cold water crashed into me as I realized something was terribly wrong. Then, the moment my fear became reality. He was gone… I would never hear his contagious laugh or the wonderful way he said mangoes ever again. I would never again receive one of his hugs like warm rays of sunshine. He would never again be there to smile and tell me everything was going to be okay.
The pain at that moment was like nothing I had felt before. It ripped through and stole my breath away, so hard it felt like I would never take a complete breath again. I was not only in pain but enraged at the universe for taking someone so light from the world. Then, there was a feeling of emptiness. My movements, my thoughts, they all seemed so hard to comprehend. Out of this nothingness, came a cold-hard motivation to do right by him in his death and to honor him. A friend suggested we light a candle. I went to my room and brought out some candles I had gotten from a temple. It started out as five of us, but as we went downstairs, more people joined in and eventually everyone at the housing was outside in front of the building with small orange candles in their hand.
This became the first memorial to Julian. All of us of different personalities, races, ethnicities, religious beliefs and backgrounds stood together and sang for Julian. We lit the candles, and some talked about memories. One of his closest friends spoke, and she reminded us of what Julian would have wanted. He would not want us to focus on the pain, but rather unite and spread the message of love and light that he carried so clearly within him and spread to everyone he met.
This was how Julian, even in his passing, managed to unite such an unlikely group of people into one consciousness of caring for one another and helping each other through the pain.
A whole university felt the blow of his loss. They came together to memorialize the life of Julian- the bright ray of sunshine who had enough energy from his fruit and altruistic vegan diet to electrify a whole room of people. And, throughout the next few days, in a beautiful memorial service held by the university and smaller memorials held by the students, he was honored, and his message of love was spread through the students as they helped each other through the emotional wreckage his loss had caused.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Julian and don’t thank him for everything he gave and taught me. I try to honor his memory by continuing to open myself up, to love as he did and to help others love themselves more completely. I know without a doubt that he will forever be sorely missed by me and all the lives he touched.