On Saturday night a close friend and colleague was hit and killed while riding his bicycle in a park near campus. Alec Waggoner was a 23 year old masters student working in our group, a Kansas native with a bright and promising future. I could go on for pages about Al’s scientific and academic ability, but it is his friendship and entirely genuine and unique take on life that I will miss the most. Alec was good at life, and was someone who I admired immensely. His passing can only be described as a monumental tragedy. Many of us have lost a great and true friend, and the earth science community has lost a bright and motivated young talent.
I do not have any experience writing about young friends in the past tense. I will probably write more about Alec later, but not now. My heart and thoughts go out to Al’s family.
A few years ago, I read Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s autobiographical book Wind, Sand, and Stars. I initially read it because it was listed inthe National Geographic list of the 100 greatest adventure books of all time. When I started reading the book I was initially kind of disappointed. Truth is there isn’t a great deal of adventure in the book, especially in the beginning. It is much more philosophical than I was expecting. By the end though, I was really into it, and I ended up re-reading it many times. I often find myself thinking about certain passages, especially during difficult times. This is the one that has been in my head ever since I heard about Alec.
Bit by bit, nevertheless, it comes over us that we shall never again hear the laughter of our friend, that this one garden is forever locked against us. And at that moment begins our true mourning, which, though it may not be rending, is yet a little bitter. For nothing, in truth, can replace that companion. Old friends cannot be created out of hand. Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions. It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak.
So life goes on. For years we plant the seed, we feel ourselves rich; and then come other years when time does its work and our plantation is made sparse and thin. One by one, our comrades slip away, deprive us of their shade.