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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“You Will Be Found” (The Jonah Mac Theatre – Endpiece)

PGT's Jonah Mac TheatreDear Jonah,

When the Jonah Mac Theatre (I still can’t believe they named it after you!) was dedicated at One North Broadway in White Plains, New York, I wrote three notes to you about it. But yesterday, I noticed a fourth note that I’d never finished. And since the moment it describes moved me so deeply, I really needed to complete it. So I’m sorry it’s taken so long to write this one, but I’ll tell you this: On March 11, 2018, I cried for you at this particular moment during the theatre’s dedication, and I cried for you again as I put these words together.

After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, we all took our seats in your space. It was time for the all-new Jonah Mac Theatre to do what theatres do: incubate performance. Members of the Play Group Theatre teen community took to your stage and presented an evening of songs from a variety of Broadway musicals. I grinned the entire way, not quite believing where we were sitting and loving that your spirit had been woven into nearly every bit of this room. As the show neared its end, PGT’s artistic director Jill Abusch took a few minutes to explain how she and her husband Steven had designed this wonderful, quirky little space, and how you are such an intrinsic component not only of how it looks but of how they will teach future students the principles of Play Group Theatre as embodied in the life and character of … you, Jonah Mac. My grinning, if it was possible, grew larger.

Nearly time to go home, the entire troupe stepped forward and presented its closing performance, “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen. Now I’d not seen Dear Evan Hansen, and while I knew something about the show’s plot, I wasn’t expecting you to appear. See for yourself. This is the original cast singing “You Will Be Found” on The Today Show.

You Will Be Found (from “Dear Evan Hansen” by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul)
Have you ever felt like nobody was there
Have you felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere
Have you ever felt like you could disappear
Like you could fall and no one would hear

Well, let that lonely feeling wash away
Maybe there’s a reason to believe you’ll be okay
Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand
You can reach, reach out your hand

And oh, someone will come running
And I know they’ll take you home

Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you’re broken on the ground
You will be found

So let the sun come streaming in
Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again
Lift your head and look around
You will be found

There’s a place where we don’t have to feel unknown
And every time that you call out
You’re a little less alone

If you only say the word
From across the silence
Your voice is heard

Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
When you’re broken on the ground
You will be found

So let the sun come streaming in
Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again
If you only look around
You will be found

Out of the shadows
The morning is breaking
And all is new
All is new

It’s feeling awfully empty
And suddenly I see
That all is new
All is new

You are not alone

Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need someone to carry you
When you’re broken on the ground

You will be found
So let the sun come streaming in
Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again
If you only look around
You will be found

Even when the dark comes crashing through
You will be found
When you need someone to carry you
You will be found

We don’t really know what happened to you that night in March 2009. We don’t know if your death was accidental or deliberate, by your own hand or someone else’s. The police investigation was inconclusive, as was the medical examiner’s. What we do know is that approximately thirty minutes passed between the end of an unpleasant altercation with the campus police and your body being found on the street outside your dorm. During that thirty minutes, you were alone. Except for a brief exchange with your roommate, after which you left your room, you were alone. Whatever state of mind you were in, I’m fairly convinced that if you had been allowed to remain with your friends, or if you had just phoned home to speak with us, there’s a possibility you would still be alive today.

Listening to this song was not easy for me. Watching it performed that evening affected me in a number of ways.

First, I sat there crying, imagining how alone you were that night. And how powerless I was to do anything about it. Maybe if you’d reached out …

Second (trying not to merely feel sorry for myself, but also to find lessons in this for all of us), I thought: We all go away. Young or old, life comes to an end. We can’t really prepare for that moment, except perhaps to understand that life is a really fragile thing. Sometimes we break and death comes far sooner than it should.

Third (and this is the most important thought): Because we have been loved, we will be missed. It is one of life’s most beautiful realities and one of its most painful challenges. Having to go on without someone we loved, our tears and our broken heart become the price of our loss. But they are also a very clear indication that we shared something wonderful with someone else. And in the midst of our grieving (or if more time is needed, perhaps a bit later), that’s something to be thankful for.

And one more thing: When we feel lost – and at one point or another, we probably all feel lost – there really is “someone to carry you.”

I love you, Jonah. And while I couldn’t carry you then, I always carry you now.

You are not alone.


P.S. I found another version of “You Will Be Found” online. It’s a virtual choir from 31 different countries, each person alone on a screen and singing a visually powerful anthem to our shared passion for leaving no soul behind.

6 Responses to ““You Will Be Found” (The Jonah Mac Theatre – Endpiece)”

  • Phyllis Opochinsky:

    What a tribute to the extra-ordinary Jonah whose memory is a blessing. I saw Dear Evan Hansen and this song perfectly captures the loneliness and the light. So I cried. Phyllis O

  • Judy Flamm:

    What a beautiful, moving tribute.

  • Susan Nisinzweig:

    Thank you Billy for writing and sharing this meaningful and loving message. Sending you lots of love!
    Susan and Dahni

  • Geri Pell:

    All these years later, it still stings like it was yesterday that Jonah left this realm. Your writing is always so poignant and captures the full spectrum of emotions of love and loss. Of course Jonah appeared, Billy —- so many of the words you used before the song described the Jonah I knew … quirky, wonderful, grinning. Jonah had a grin that lit up the world. I pray that you and Ellen feel that he is carrying you as well. His soul and memory are not only a blessing, but an energetic force in the universe of pure love and light.

    Thank you for modeling all the strength and love.

  • Bette Hagouel:

    Billy— how very powerful and a ‘gift’ of words and feelings. Yes life is so fragile. Thanks for sharing

  • Billy Dreskin, you are an extraordinary human being. Your vulnerability holds up our dignity and is a bridge across the chasm of our broken hearts. We carry you as you carry Jonah.

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