Monday, July 18, 2011

For D.A.

On Saturday after a funeral, I was privately asked if I would write something about the loss of a mutual friend of ours and somehow connect it to sports. Respectfully, I have to say that the connection is hard. Though he did play football for one of the prominent Catholic high schools here in New York City, those days as a former lineman (both sides) were just a very, very minor part of his life.

There is a significant connection between death and sports. It’s played out often when there’s some form of tragedy – natural disaster, terrorist attack or the recent death at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. It’s evident when an athlete – active or revered in retirement – passes on, compelling memorials from the franchise or league affected. For a few moments, we collectively see sports figures as human, sharing pains alongside with memories of those lost and more often than not, performing with an extra bit of emotion.
Yet, that’s not what this post is about. This is about getting to know someone who was inspired to be more than a face in the crowd, no matter the circumstances he endured in his 29 years on Earth.

A few years back, I met Darian. He was quite possibly the oldest young man I ever met in terms of the experiences he had in his life. To begin to speak on them would be unfair to those close to him, but let’s say that a couple of life-changing moments early set him upon a path that would be personally and socially fulfilling. For me, he was vouched for because of our mutual friends; a quintet of people I am proud to call friends, one going back to our high school days. We all have this strong belief that good people connect with other good people for far more than swapping business cards.
Darian spent the last few years of his life lending a hand to kids that grew up like he did; rough around the edges, needing an idea (let alone direction) and a chance. He helped develop an organization to reach those kids and in all honestly, barely scratched the surface on what it and he could do. Though there is certainly faith that the group will carry on in his honor, his DNA was so affixed to it that it truthfully doesn’t have a choice. Outwardly, Darian was a tireless champion while internally battling significant health problems for half of his life.

Beyond his own intellect, charisma and a jovial attitude, he had something can be hard to find; passion in his work. It’s why we got along quite well, even if we didn’t see each other often. We were two life-worn kids from the projects; Bronx natives (though I moved to Harlem in high school) that carried our backgrounds with us every day in order to make our work matter to someone. There was a common belief that our means will provide greater ends; though many don’t exactly see redemption through sports media. Darian was far more accomplished in achieving his goal than I have been, so his persistence was something I came to admire about him.
To believe in your work isn’t something you come upon every day. To believe in your work and still be a halfway decent human being in the process? That’s something else entirely.

A lot of people among us use our professions to essentially brag about how good our lives are, even if we don’t see it as such. How many times this week have you seen incessant social media updates about vacations and the hackneyed “Rise and Grind” by people who exhibit little effort to achieve something? How often do you hear about people who seem to fall into opportunities while you fight, claw and scrape just for a chance? Do you find yourself wondering why the hell do those with such charmed lives feel the need to scream to the heavens about their fortunes?

See, Darian didn’t take to boasting much. I say much because those of us who would see him smooth the lining of his suits or throw out that playfully arrogant laugh knew that he did so because he was living proof that there are no excuses when it came to making a better life than the one you were given at birth. His existence basically told us “I made the most of this terrible hand I had, so why can’t you do the same?”
I guess that’s what stood out to me most about Darian’s life and his passing. He didn’t let poor health and a seemingly past life of bad decisions stop him from doing the right thing as an adult. He stared down adversity when others would have tucked their tails and ran off.  He took no shorts and fought bravely to the last breath.

And on that note, I can only hope that each person he impacted – including myself – will pick up the proverbial gloves and continue the fight for something bigger and better than the individual. I didn’t know him as well as I would have liked, but it did not mean that he didn’t leave an indelible impression. For those who were closest to him, after the countless sympathies and condolences, please take solace in that we respected and loved the impact he left to you all.

Carry on. He did.


Anonymous said...

I have known Darian since he was born and I would like to thank you for your Comments ,Well Said You Described HiM to the T.Know He is With GOD,His MOM(MS.Debbie,His Grandma,Aunt and Uncle) Watching over us all!! THANK YOU

Shannon Lee Gilstad said...

I am going to post this on my own site as background for speaking about the scholarship that has been created in his name at the BronxWorks agency, where he worked. I will keep you posted. Friends, family, and colleagues can now sponsor Jamel Melendez, Darian's co-worker in YAIP, the program he worked in, who will be running the New York City Marathon to raise money for the scholarship fund.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your kind words and accurate description of what Darian stood for and who he was. While I am still engulfed in the pain of missing my brother it is comforting to know how many other people loved, admired, and adored him and because he was able to touch your life and countless others I know that eventually I will feel peace. Missing my brother eternally. RIP D!

Anonymous said...

I have known Darian since the first day of the 6th grade and have been friends ever since. We was a great man who left us way too young. We spoke to others about each other as if we saw one another everyday. However, regret not taking advantage of seeing him every opportunity.

Thanks for your kind words.

Love you D!

Your bro Len-