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. 7

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.

Steph O’Bryan is graduating this Sunday, May 13, with a Bachelor’s Degree in English and a Journalism Certificate. She will remain in Buffalo, hoping to land a job writing for one of the music magazines in the area. Her long-term plan is to go back to UB for a Master’s Degree in English and to eventually earn her PhD.

Steph writes the following:

Mac and I had a bunch of fun memories. Many of them occurred while playing our favorite card game, Egyptian Ratscrew. Mac and I were probably the two most competitive and stubborn people in our group of friends, and therefore our card games lasted until the earlier hours of the morning.

One night specifically, we could not finish this one game of E-screw, it was down to just Mac and me, and the game went on for hours. We decided to put something on to watch while we played, and that is when Mac and I discovered our passion/obsession with “Family Guy.” We watched the “Blue Harvest” episode, which is an adaptation of “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.” While watching, we realized that each of us knew and could recite almost every line of the episode.

It was something that Mac and I carried with us the entire freshman year. Whenever we saw each other, the first thing uttered out of our mouths was a quote from that episode. Which would immediately be followed by a game of E-Screw, normally taking place at the bench outside the Wilkeson dorms. Whenever I think of your son, I think of him with his mouth pursed to the side reciting a quote in the Peter Griffin voice. He was so good at it!! We quoted that show each and every time we were together.

I suspect that, for most parents, their child’s college experience is a bit of a closed book. I’m so grateful to have Steph and Jonah’s other friends open that book a little bit, and invite us in to take a look around.

This guy, “Mac,” that everybody at UB writes about, sounds a lot like “Jonah” to me. But as with so many young people leaving home for the first time, the desire to rewrite their story — to shed the stuff about childhood that was least enjoyed, and to emphasize those parts of the self that speak best to who we want to be — is quite understandable and reasonable. I suspect that was what “Mac” was up to.

Essential Jonah UB 2008-09

Essential Jonah
UB 2008-09

But the essential Jonah-ness was still all there. It was always there. Even in the fifth grade, when he claimed to have no friends and to be good at nothing. I used to sit on his bed and tell him that this wasn’t just a dumb old dad’s point of view, but that he possessed something incredibly special inside of him, and if he’d just share it with the world, the same way he shared it with us – with his family – people would fall in love with him. “Mac” did not need to change his name — that was just him having fun. He’d already tapped into his essential beauty. And the votes were pouring in everyday: Jonah/Mac was comical, witty, smart, engaging, and someone you could absolutely rely on in your moment of need. There was nothing about him that needed to be hidden. Mac could (and did!) share Jonah with the entire world.

Steph continued:

Another memory (that brings me to tears every time I think of it) occurred when Jade came up for a weekend visit. I went outside to the bench to look for everybody and I heard a guitar playing. So I walked down the terrace a little ways to find Mac serenading Jade with his guitar on the bench nearby.

He was singing and playing to her. “All My Loving,” by The Beatles. This was right before she left to get on her train back to Hobart. It was just such a beautiful moment and I knew that he truly loved that girl with all his heart. It was that one college relationship that you knew was going to go on for a very long time. They were so happy together every time we saw them.

Well, who wouldn’t fall in love with Jade? Our whole family is still crazy about that woman. We love seeing her from time to time, and we’ll fondly watch from the sidelines as her life moves forward. There’s a reason Jonah fell for her, and we have too.

I’ve often wondered, in the years since Jonah’s death: what would be the most important experiences for a person to have if their time on earth was extremely limited? As a 55-year old, I know that I’ve needed every year God’s given me in order to put together a life for myself that is full and right. If I’d only had nineteen, I’d not only have missed out on so many experiences that I’ve had between 19 and 55, but my life would have concluded before I’d barely begun to grow … before I’d barely begun to live.

This is, of course, one of my persistent thoughts about Jonah. He’d hardly gotten out of the gate before his adventure was over. And that leaves an undercurrent of sadness that I carry with me, disappointed that so many moments in life will never be his. This week’s graduation. His first job. His first apartment. His career. His family. His colonoscopy. Okay, I wouldn’t wish that last one on anybody, but I sure wish he’d have lived long enough for his doctor to bully him into getting one like my doctor bullied me.

At the same time, however, Jonah got to see and to hear and to feel so much. And as much as I miss him, I’m happy (yep, happy) that his life had been as full and as good as it truly was. This story about Jade is one of its great highlights, because Jonah got to be in love! He got to develop his capacity to love. Not just people in general, which he did all the time. But that one special person — to dote upon, to swoon for, to serenade, and to feel that lightness of heart that comes from knowing someone has singled you out from the entire human population to be the object of their affections and desires. And my Jonah, he had the opportunity to make someone else the object of his affections and his desires. I am forever thankful that his life was long enough to know that kind of love.

Life turns on a dime. Jonah Maccabee teaches me everyday the importance of bringing to life the very best we have, and of soaking in as much of its brilliant light and life-giving warmth as we possibly can. Like a most excellent game of Egyptian Ratscrew, we must focus and engage and remember and then laugh our way to the very end.

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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