Her Legacy


I was with my cousins, a five-year-old on one arm and a eight-year-old on the other, looking for gluten-free lunch options at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo when my parents told me that a girl at my school had died.

I couldn’t seem to recall ever meeting her, talking to her, or even walking past her in the hallway. The pictures of her in the slideshow they played were only vaguely familiar. It wasn’t until a couple months later that I learned her name was pronounced “Ah-na” and not “An-na,” as the rest of my family and I had been using since her death.

Anna’s parents, Michael and Fran, remember their child as someone who appreciated the value of kindness, and spread that kindness not only to her friends and family, but to everyone around her. To celebrate this part of her, Michael and Fran created the Kindness Award, something any student at her school was eligible for. That year, I was the eighth grade award-winner.

As I was shaking her hand, Fran asked me if I’d known her daughter. As I told her I hadn’t the guilt I felt was the worst I’d ever experienced.

Only after her death was Anna a constant part of my life. While talking with Michael, he told me how Anna came home one day and said to him she had a boyfriend and all she did with him was sit next to him on the bus ride to and from school. Fran and Anna’s brother Alex brought my entire class pizza one day, and didn’t even stay to eat any of it. As I helped Anna’s aunt and uncle hand out cookies to homeless people, they pointed out to me her favorite restaurant, and remembered a picture of her sitting in there with the biggest smile on her face. They said that was one of the best things about her: her smile.

It wasn’t until Anna had been gone for almost a year that I found myself missing her. As I heard more and more about what a kind and thoughtful person she was, I began to wish I knew more of her than stories of bus-boyfriends and big smiles.

I felt, and still feel, a sense of remorse and loss: a consuming feeling I never want to experience again.

In her death, Anna has inspired me to connect to as many people as possible. She has taught me that it’s not worth it to be so caught up in my own head that I let someone as kind as she was pass me by and to appreciate that each person has wonderful things to offer the world. I know that it’s unreasonable to expect myself to find the ability to unlock the extraordinary parts in each person. I can’t blame myself for not knowing Anna while she was still alive. All I can ask of myself is to keep an open mind, and try my best to show the people I do happen to meet how exceptional they truly are.

You never know when somebody could be taken from you, or when you could be taken from them, so live life as fully as possible, take chances, talk to someone, ask them their name, because tomorrow you might not be able to. Lives can, and will, change in an instant, and while it may seem safer to keep your head down and plow through the day, you can never go back to look up and see all the wonderful things you just didn’t realize were there.