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The great equalizer

| Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Kerry Schneeman

On January 26, 2020 a helicopter crashed near Calabasas, California, and all nine individuals on board died. Among the victims of the crash were basketball legend, husband, father and creator Kobe Bryant as well as his 13 year-old, Gianna. It is difficult to say what Kobe Bryant meant to me, what he symbolized, when I was growing up. I will never forget the intensity that burned behind his eyes, his smile that spoke more about inner confidence and drive than words ever could. I will never forget huddling around my dad’s phone to catch updates of Kobe’s legendary final game on ESPN because we couldn’t afford cable television.

Kobe Bryant inspired me to find and be confident with my place in the world during times when my family and I did not have a home. Let us not forget that ESPN once left Kobe outside of a ranking of top 10 basketball players of all-time, that he was never anointed to be king of the NBA in the same way that LeBron James was. And yet, his hunger to be one of the best basketball players never waned, from taking shots on a darkened court two hours before scheduled practice to playing teammates to 100 one-on-one. I never met Kobe, but like the millions across the world that mourn him, he inspired me to find my voice and myself and to always keep striving to be the very best I could be in life. 

Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spoke about how Kobe was so much more than an athlete, and it is this fact that makes his loss all the more painful. Kobe was a father, a husband, a ferociously competitive and creative mind that has left a vacuum where he once resided. The potential energy of Gianna and Kobe Bryant and the other seven victims of the crash, the sheer mass of life yet to live and horizons left to be conquered, is devastating to me. I have known since the passing of the nine victims that I wanted to write an article commemorating them. I envisioned a clean, beautiful, philosophical tribute to them, to Annrose, one that focused on remembrance and appreciation rather than melancholy. What you’re reading is the ghost of those past versions of my article, which I deleted one by one. 

I cannot shake how devastated, empty and angry I am at the deaths of these nine individuals. Not at God, necessarily. I am not particularly religious and yet one of the fundamental debates that has always fascinated me in theology is the idea of a God who allows suffering. In fact, I was literally reading scholarship on Job and unjust suffering for a class when I found out about the crash. I am angry at how random and incomprehensible the deaths of these nine victims are. I am angry that Kobe will not be able to continue impacting youth with his words and genius, angry that he won’t be able to keep excelling at fatherhood. I am angry that Gianna will never play for UConn, that we won’t be able to count the championships she would’ve won on both hands. I am angry that Annrose will never graduate. But most of all, I am angry that the sun will rise and set and the world will carry on.

This was a major problem for me when my grandfather died in Chicago when I was living in New Mexico. I wished with all my heart for the sun to stand still, that people would somehow recognize the passing of this “ordinary” man. Because there is no such thing as an “ordinary” human. The colors we perceive when we look around us, the stories we have to share with one another, our hopes and fears, dreams and desires. These are lost when we lose someone, and photograph memories, the way that people made us feel, who they impacted, these are the powerful yet fragile scrapbook pieces of remembrance. 

Perhaps the fact that we can carry on is a testament to the strength of humanity. It is not as if the losses we have experienced will leave us, especially for family and friends and those directly impacted by death. Death is overwhelming, it is incomprehensible. And yet, every human is imbued with a sense of their ending from birth.

So, enjoy life. Enjoy the warmth of the sun that has pierced the clouds for the first time in weeks. Enjoy dinner with friends, swap stories about your weekend and hold onto those who mean the world to you. 

But I ask you to remember Annrose Jerry, Gianna Bryant, Kobe Bryant, Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, Christina Mauser, Alyssa Altobelli, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli and Ara Zabayan in the midst of your celebration of life. The sun might never stand still although we scream at it until we cannot muster the strength to scream anymore. But this does not mean that gravity does not collapse inward inside us to form a supernova that will always be there. The constellations may change with history, but the stars will always fill up the sky.

Legends never die.

Gabriel Niforatos is a junior majoring in political science with minors in the Hesburgh Program in Public Service and Theology. He is passionate about giving a voice to the disenfranchised and writing is the muse he is persistently chasing. He can be found at [email protected] or @g_niforatos on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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