This Tuesday, the RPI community suffered two losses. A student passed away in his apartment complex, and former Rensselaer Union Barber Tony Cafararo passed away from cancer. In light of these two tragedies, what I was going to write in this space seems insignificant. I was going to talk about responsibility and the power to change your life, or perhaps something on or the state of the paper.
Tony Cafararo was the only local barber I trusted to cut my hair (please ignore the picture in the middle, it was taken many years ago, before my first haircut at RPI). Back in the 1960s, my great-grandfather was head of the local barber’s union, and Tony would tell me stories about how he used to work with him and what the local area used to be like “back in the day.” I liked the connection he gave me to my great-grandfather and times gone by, and in turn, a simpler time in my life. I never knew Michael Dickinson ’14, and I’m not such a great wordsmith as to be able to craft a moving tribute to him, not so great a philosopher as to be able to craft something of relative importance, and I won’t presume to reflect upon the man or situation. For that, see the article above mine; it was written by a man who knew Michael as a friend, a man who has a far greater capacity for emotion and writing then I and many others.
I don’t like death, and I don’t know how to deal with it. It’s not exactly something you get taught in school. I remember I watched a Mister Rogers episode where his fish died once. I don’t remember much about it, but I’m pretty sure that was what my childhood education on death was supposed to be. But then my great-grandfather died. A fish isn’t exactly comparable to a human, and it’s not in the realm of a family member or loved one. I was too young to understand when he passed away what it meant to have a connection to someone and then never be able to experience them again, but I was able to remember him.
Later, when I was in high school, I had a mentor named Dave Ellis. I knew him for about two years before he developed cancer and passed away. In that brief time, he helped me develop my love for computer science and passion for the intellectual pursuit. When he passed away, I attended his service at RPI’s Chapel + Cultural Center. I had developed a connection with him, and this time I knew what it was like to lose something like that. I would never be able to ask him for his advice again or hear him lecture me about his ideas and curiosities. Likewise, I would never be able to torture him with my young mind’s simplistic view of things.
I don’t know what I accomplished by writing this, but death still isn’t a thing that I’ve come to understand. My view has evolved and changed, and I suspect it will continue to do so with each death that comes into my life.