Harper lived well in 13 years

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I did not know Jacob Harper, the Opp teenager who died in an ATV accident, but reading comments about him from those who knew him touched me. It is so hard to make sense of the death of a young person like Jacob, so difficult to understand the why behind such a loss.

At 13, he had his life ahead of him; to have it end so suddenly leaves everyone, even those who didn’t know him feeling a deep sense of sadness. I guess that is what drew me to the story about him in the paper.

Perhaps, I, like most people, wanted to find some kind of consolation, some reason where no reason exists. What I read didn’t answer the question why, but it did speak to the importance of every individual life to every one no matter how many years it lasts.

Each person who shared memories of this young man talked about his heart and about his great ability to give to others. What they remembered was his character, his compassion and his caring nature.

More than one of them described how he noticed when another student needed something and did his best to help. For example, they said he made sure to help kids who didn’t have lunch or snack money.

They said he was happy, carefree and a great friend. The band director recalled Jacob’s musical ability, his love for the band and said he was a “future leader.”

Then he said something that really struck me. He said Jacob didn’t judge people and that he loved everybody.

As I read those words, I thought about how long it takes most of us to learn about not judging other people. It takes a lifetime for many people to come to a place of feeling compassion for others much less put action behind those feelings like Jacob did in his 13 short years. And having the ability to love everyone is something that eludes a great many of us no matter how long we live.

Behind the quotes from people who knew Jacob, I sensed the hurt and loss they felt. Those who knew this young man well now have an empty place in their lives that aches from his absence. For them, the pain is close and intense, and I wish there was something that could make it instantly better.

People, like me, who only know Jacob because of the story of his passing feel a removed sense of loss, but a loss nonetheless. Perhaps that is because on a deep level we understand that we are connected in spirit, and we feel that connection in times of both joy and sadness. That is what drew me to read Jacob’s story and to share in acknowledging what his life meant.

In 13 years, he learned and showed by example what makes a successful, fulfilled life. Jacob cared, and shared. He loved and accepted people. He may no longer be here, but in the time he was here, he made a difference, and even in his passing, he touched us and inspired us to be better, to care deeper, and to love more.

As I said, I did not know Jacob Harper, but part of me feels like I did. And while I cannot begin to imagine the pain his family and friends share as they face life without him, I can share in celebrating that he lived and he lived well.