It's the eve of Christmas Eve, the fourth night of Hanukkah. It's nice when the two holidays fall close together on the calendar and everybody is feeling festive at the same time.
We celebrate Hanukkah at our house. My husband and I had to deal with being empty nesters at the beginning of the holiday. Rachel was in New York for a reunion with her Bronfman Youth Fellowship cohorts, and Molly works as the Director of Education at Temple Emanuel in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Oh, hell. I can't write this. I'm trying to compose a cheery holiday missive and it's just not working. No matter where my thoughts begin, they keep turning back to Patrick Kelley.
Patrick was a Gainesville High School senior. Earlier this week, he was killed in an automobile crash. It was his 18th birthday.
Patrick went to elementary school with our Rachel. There are some children who have a special something, a spark, a presence. Something that signals, even very early on, that this is a person of substance.
I remember telling my husband that I couldn't wait to see what Patrick grew up to be. His combination of intelligence and talent and innate goodness melded into a wonderful little kid. As he grew, it just became more so.
The Times has done an admirable job of outlining Patrick's accomplishments. He was one of a handful of Georgia students chosen to attend the Governor's Honors Program last summer. He was in the Beta Club and National Honor Society. He won the 2010 Jackson EMC Energy Bowl. He was an Eagle Scout candidate. He was headed to MIT or Georgia Tech.
He was a musician, too. I remember the little third-grader lugging his cello onto the stage at Centennial Elementary School. He played one of the beginner pieces, probably "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" but he did it with aplomb and ended with his trademark smile. If they'd been handing out awards at that YMCA after-school program talent contest I'm quite sure he would have placed.
He went on to play euphonium in the GHS band.
He and Rachel attended different high schools, but they remained friends.
I last saw Patrick at a debate tournament at Lakeview Academy. He was a taller, handsomer version of the elementary school kid I remembered. Same smile, same gracious good manners, same determination and work ethic. I wasn't at all surprised when he placed first in his event.
If good news has legs then bad news has wings. Shortly after his death, Rachel called me from Bryant Park in New York City, sobbing. She'd been ice skating when a schoolmate phoned her with the news. She kept saying, over and over, "No, not Patrick. Not Patrick." It mirrored my feelings exactly.
I peeked on his Facebook page where time and again kids wrote tributes to his intelligence and talents but even more to his kindness, friendliness, helpfulness. Most of all, they spoke of how much he will be missed.
One posting read, "You were one of the greatest people I've ever met. Thank you so much for being nice to me in band. I can't thank you enough for helping me in my crippled state. You were so extremely talented, teaching me that I don't need to freak out at band music and helping me in any situation. I've always been able to rely on you. Your kindness and consideration will always live on in my heart. It's hard to believe that this really happened, but I'll see you again soon enough. God got an amazing person today. Thank you for being a great friend. I love you and will look forward to the day we meet again."
There's a sense of disbelief emanating from these young people who not so long ago were children. Children who believed in a world full of magic, where you could close your eyes and make a wish and everything would be all right.
Would that it were so.
My heart is heavy for the Kelley family, for Patrick's GHS and church and Scout families. For my child and her friends who must face an adult reality that can't be wished away. For incredible potential that will now never be realized.
It's the eve of Christmas Eve, the fourth night of Hanukkah. There's a pall cast by loss and sadness, but there's also the promise and comfort offered by our respective faiths.
Christmas joy and gut yontiff to you all. b'Shalom, Patrick Kelley.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and on gainesvilletimes.com.