When I drove down Fremont yesterday morning, I saw the satellite news vans parked in front of South Pasadena High School. Sure, they might have been there because a science whiz figured out unified field theory or a student fan fiction blogger got a three book deal. But, more likely, when news vans are in front of a high school they are there because someone died. As I drove closer, I saw the lurking photogs with telescopic lenses aimed at groups of ashen-faced teens. Some kids were weeping. Some were clutching one another. Some were staring with a blankness that comes after being sucker-punched by the hands of fate.
Grief never fits anybody right. But it is especially too big to be worn by young people.
This past Saturday night, South Pasadena High School senior Aydin Salek passed away at a party in Altadena. Yesterday would have been his 18th birthday. He was the student Commissioner of Internal Affairs, a writer for the school paper, a student liaison to the South Pasadena School Board, the president of the campus American Cancer Society Club and a swim team member.
I spent about an hour reading the messages posted on a Facebook tribute page and kept seeing many of the same words used to describe him. Passionate. Generous. Inspirational. Influential. Kind. Brilliant. Funny. I learned that he donated money to charity. I learned that he helped feed the homeless in Pasadena. I learned that he surprised the swim team one morning last year with four huge boxes of donuts. I learned that he tutored some kids on the side, and irritated more than one of them with speeches about being more motivated. I learned that he danced to Usher in a car with a girl after buying her chicken McNuggets. I learned that he liked a good argument but loved a good joke. I learned that he wanted -- like so many beautiful young shooting stars -- to illuminate the world. To make things brighter.
Like any tragedy, this one has been spackled with big globs of rumor and innuendo, with lazy reporting and speculation. Local news stories have all but proclaimed his death a result of binge drinking. But we don't have any information yet on what, exactly, caused this tragedy. All we know is that a promising young man died and that he left behind a family whose despair can't possibly be expressed in words.
He also left behind a lot of shattered young people who really loved him -- friends who need space to grieve and who don't need insensitive questions from reporters hanging around school grounds or fingerwagging lectures from highhanded adults who seek to turn a young man's death into a talking point. David Bowie said it well:
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through.
Family and friends have organized a candlelight Walk for Aydin Salek on Wednesday, December 14, at 7:00PM, starting in front of the South Pasadena High School Gymnasium.
The South Pasadena High School website will post pertinent information about this tragedy as it becomes available.
Update January 9, 2010: The Los Angeles Times published a touching story about Aydin Salek's parents, including a link to a charitable foundation in his name.