While some knew him as Jonah and others as Mac, we all loved and respected him. And we miss him dearly.

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Commencement Gifts, No. 5

On May 13, 2012, Jonah would have graduated from the State University of New York’s University at Buffalo. To mark this occasion in a meaningful way, I have invited friends from his freshman year (who knew him as “Mac”) to share memories about him. These young people have opened for me a small window into the life Jonah had begun away from home. I hope this collection of stories opens that window for you.

Kayla White graduated from UB in 2010. She’s been working as an Assistant Manager at a 7-11 and is soon moving on to the Adirondack Heart Lodge where she’s excited to be living in a cabin or a tent, and enjoying nature to the fullest. She’s promised herself that she will try to climb every mountain there.

Kayla writes:

The memory I would like to share is the first time I met Mac. I had just gone downtown with my friends Danielle and Tyler to attend the Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival (buffalowing.com). We were on our way home riding the Metro when I noticed a group of hippies sitting across from us. We were juniors at the time and although they looked younger (and were, in fact, freshman), they looked like an interesting bunch. That was the first time I met Leyna, Cydney, Jimmy and, of course, Mac. I even remember what he was wearing: jeans, a white t-shirt, and aviator sunglasses. Cydney was the first to respond to us and tell me that she liked my peace sign necklace. I responded that I liked her India-inspired bag.

We started chatting with the bunch and they seemed really cool. We invited them to our party that we were having at Dani’s and my apartment that night. Surprisingly, they came. I hadn’t thought they would. Leyna and Mac brought with them an Alex Gray book and a mask. I remember sitting in my room and everyone was taking turns wearing the mask and saying what they saw. It was such an interesting concept, but Mac and his friends were into all the psychedelic and philosophical stuff. Having been a philosophy major and a comparative literature minor, I understood. He reminded me of myself as a freshman.

What they also brought with them was body paint. Over the years, I have had many, many body painting parties and I owe it all to Mac and his friends. We had such a great time that night, and Leyna and Mac became regulars at our get-togethers.

“Hippies.” I’ve heard this descriptor often regarding Jonah’s time in Buffalo. And what fascinates me is that, for Jonah, it hadn’t begun there. He’d been in a production of “Hair” during his senior year of high school, and the entire cast had become a community of hippies, and not just onstage. They really seemed to coalesce as a very special ensemble of caring, giving, loving human beings, and (at least, as this dad watched from afar) it permeated their relationships offstage as well as on. That he carried this with him to college suggests to me that the “Hair” experience may have deeply affected Jonah and his view of the world. I’ve no direct proof that this is what happened, but “Hair” had a lot to say about the way we interact with the world around us, and as impressionable teenagers, I think they got swept along by something quite beautiful. Jonah already had a proclivity for embracing the very human and very emotional dimensions of life. That these were embodied in the script of “Hair” would probably have reinforced his fondness for the outlook of the “hippie.”

Jonah, June & Kayla UB 2008-09

Jonah, June & Kayla
UB 2008-09

Oh, and while there was something familiar to me in all of this (after all, I had grown up in the “Hair” era), I think my appreciation went beyond nostalgia. The sixties really offered some exceptional ideals and seeing Jonah and his friends embrace those ideals made this father very happy and quite proud.

Jonah had gone to UB to study engineering. That changed very soon after his arrival, and I wasn’t surprised. Jonah hadn’t seemed like an engineering student to me. I knew he could intellectually appreciate it, especially the intricacies that lay behind everything people build. When he told us he was changing his major to philosophy, that sounded more like my boy. But who knew? He might just as easily been excited and inspired by a spunky chemistry professor who pondered the molecular foundations of existence. As always, time would have told.

The “hippie” thing didn’t quite get as far as “turn on, tune in, drop out.” I’ve got the papers to prove it. Jonah did actually do some college-level writing. And he was in touch with his advisor in a very cordial way. This hippie was on a journey, but not to oblivion. He was on his way to discovering what would resonate in both his heart and his mind. And as I’ve written before, I’d have loved to have seen what that would have become.

Kayla shared an additional memory with me. A bittersweet one:

The last time I ever saw Mac was on UB North Campus in front of the Student Union. I hadn’t seen him in a little while since we were all preparing for midterms and things like that. I’d been walking when all of a sudden I heard my name — “Kay!” — being yelled at a distance. I turned around to see Maccabee running toward me at top speed (nearly taking me out), picking me up in a hug, and twirling me around. We’d missed each other but chatted only for a little bit. I was on my way to class so I couldn’t talk long. Mac promised he’d see me very soon. I gave him a look that said I didn’t believe him, and he frowned at that for a moment. I can see it clear as day in my head, even now. Then, in a goofball dramatic tone, he promised that we’d see each other again, saying it’d be wonderful and everything I’d hope it to be. We hugged and the last thing we did was grasp each other’s hand as we separated. I remember smiling and turning around one last time and then we let go.

That night, I was going to call him and invite him over to hang out with me and Tyler, but no one was hanging out until the next night. So I thought, “I’ll just call him tomorrow.” I didn’t know tomorrow wouldn’t come. I wish so badly I had called him.

How many of us feel that way? I last spoke with Jonah on my birthday, twelve days before he died. It had been three months since I’d last seen him. But life is always that way, isn’t it? When we lose something/someone we loved, don’t we always regret that there hadn’t been more? I could never have gotten enough time with Jonah. My heart will always yearn, always miss him. But those hugs were so huge. That smile was so beautiful. That laugh, so infectious. That makes him an extremely memorable guy. I’ll be holding onto all of it. As I suspect Kayla will be doing. And so many others who loved Jonah Maccabee.

Kayla concluded her writing with these words:

Looking back on the last time I saw him means so much and I do truly believe that I will see him again and it’ll be amazing and everything I’d hope it to be.

Jonah touched our lives in astonishingly gracious ways. He is so very much worth remembering. And, as does Kayla, I hope there will indeed be a time when we can see each other again. That would be amazing, and even more than I could ever hope would be.

As May 13, 2012, approaches, these are some of his commencement gifts to us.

Billy

P.S. “Commencement Gifts” is The Jonah Maccabee Foundation’s very first fundraiser. Thinking of what might have been Jonah’s graduation on May 13, 2012, we “commence” the work of what I hope will be a worthwhile participant in the not-for-profit community. Please consider making a tax-deductible gift at https://www.jonahmac.org by Sunday, May 13 (okay, or any other time). Thank you.

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