Several weeks ago, I read a Kent Patch story about a man who was hit by a train around midnight. This occurred not far from where I live. It seemed like an intriguing mystery. The police were unable to identify the victim. Who was this man who died on the rails? Why was he out so late? Was this a suicide?
I didn't consider the tragedy involved. Of course, I didn't know this man, whoever he was. He had nothing to do with me. He was a nameless stranger. Somehow, that made it easier to be interested in the story.
The victim was recently identified, and his name was released to the public yesterday. I saw it first on Facebook. The Wick Poetry Center posted a tribute to Christian O'Keeffe, a 20 year old Kent State student. I then received several emails about the tragic loss of Christian O'Keefe. I still didn't make the connection.
Kent Patch sent a breaking news alert in the afternoon. There it was -- The man hit by the train was identified as Christian O'Keeffe. As I read the story, I discovered that I knew Christian. We were fellow poetry students. He was in my classes. We were honored as Outstanding Poetry students and shared the excitement of our first poetry reading together.
Suddenly, the news story was horrifying, not interesting. The victim was not a nobody. He was a highly talent writer. He had family and friends and I knew him.
We were two ships sailing in the dark waters toward the same destination. Somewhere out there was an island paradise... A place full of sunshine and green foliage... With sandy white beaches and tropical birds. This place is where our dreams would come true.
As we sailed along, I think Christian was ahead of me. We'd both make it, but he would get there first.
What happened? Did a sail break, leading him into danger? Was he lost in a fog? Or did the beautiful singing of the Sirens lead him astray?
I'm thinking about Christian O'Keeffe. Did he remember me? Did he know my name or face? Did he listen to my poetry? Did he feel anything about my poems?
I knew him, but I am blind. I don't know what he looks like. I never saw his face. I never saw him smile or laugh. I don't know the expression on his face as he read his poetry.
I knew him, but I am deaf. I never heard his voice. I never heard the sound of his laughter. I don't know how he spoke when he read his poetry.
Did Christian O'Keeffe commit suicide? Does it matter? Oh, yes...I know better than most. For the family's sake, I hope they are right that this was a tragic accident. The alternative is unbearable. There will never be peace... just questions of "what if" and "if only."
God bless Christian O'Keeffe, his friends and family. He may be dead, but he isn't gone. He will always live on in memories and the poetry he left behind.