To the students at John Carroll High School, Bel Air:
I was writing a speech for your National Honor Society induction ceremony when Amy Sabatino called and left the message about Michael Brady. She sounded very distressed, and you all know why, of course. Michael died Saturday morning after the car he was driving crashed into a tree. He was 17 years old, a senior.
So what should have been been a joyous week at John Carroll, with a ceremony honoring some of its brightest students, turned into a starkly sad one. The induction ceremony was postponed until February. Monday's basketball game was postponed, too. Michael -- to most, he was just "Brady" -- was a member of the John Carroll team and, from what I've learned, a popular student.
"He was always laughing and grinning, a jokester," Amy Sabatino said. "He made us laugh."
"He was a real character. Everyone has a Michael Brady story," said Sandy Ferriter, mother of Tim, one of four other boys who survived the wreck.
There was confusion, at first, about what caused the accident. This newspaper reported what it was told by the Harford County sheriff's office -- that alcohol had contributed to the crash. A blood test, however, showed no alcohol in Michael's blood. You know that by now. It was explained at assemblies Monday morning. It's good that the assemblies were held; it gave you a chance to get the facts.
And yet today, I bet that how Michael Brady died is not as important a question as why he died. And no one can answer that question.
So you are confused as well as hurt. You are young and probably inexperienced with death -- especially the sudden death of someone your own age. When you are in high school, on the good days you look out the window and see nothing but future. But in an instant like this one, all that fiery spirit can drain out of you, as if it never existed.
I know the feeling.
How is that possible? I didn't even know Michael Brady.
You were his teammates and classmates and pals. You knew him. Not me. I can only imagine what it's like to be a student at John Carroll this week. I can only imagine the pain you all feel.
But that I -- everyone -- can do that gets to the point of this little epistle.
You are not alone. If, this week, you feel confused and frightened, even abandoned or betrayed, know that you are not alone. Know that everyone around you has had some kind of pain injected into their lives. Thousands of people have been crushed by the sudden loss of someone they loved, someone they went to school with, someone they worked with. There have been men and women, boys and girls, killed in car crashes, in wars, in street robberies; babies have died in their cribs. There are high school students in Baltimore who have seen friends die in shootings and rowhouse fires. I have interviewed dozens of parents who have buried sons and daughters victimized by violent crimes.
In some way -- some mysterious way -- human loss effects all of us, especially if the person who dies is someone we know. Loss like this diminishes your life. It leaves a scar on your heart. It forms the look on your face.
There's no avoiding it, and I know that sounds like a terribly frightening thing. It was when I first heard it. That idea -- that there is no avoiding pain in life -- can make you really afraid of living in this world. But look around -- at your parents, your teachers -- and know that each of them has experienced loss, each has suffered a kind of brokenness within. That they go on living is an act of faith and courage. Humans are incredibly resilient. We can acknowledge that, on certain days, this world looks like a rotten place -- an unbearably rotten place -- but we still get up and go on, fumbling as we might through life.
I'm writing this feeble letter not so much to console but to advise. You have to be courageous to get through life, and at times like these, many people are weak and they need your help. Reach out to Michael Brady's family and embrace them. Give them courage. Embrace your friends, too. Tell them you love them if you haven't said so in a while. Down the road, when the time is right, make them smile, make them laugh. That's how you honor Michael Brady.
Take care. I'll see you next month.