As I write these words, I am in shock.  

Soorya Avali, one of my college-mates at Rice, is gone.

I type them, but I can’t believe these sentences are real.  It seems irreverent to talk about Soorya in the past tense, because he was so full of life.  As an engineer, he was brilliant.  As a person, he was beyond so.

He is, I believe, the sixth person we have lost from Rice this year.  There have been so many from this small campus that it’s getting difficult to keep track.  

I won’t pretend that I knew him very well.  Certainly I didn’t know him as well as I should have.  But there are two things I want to talk about before I close.

Around this time last year, I was in a difficult place.  It seemed like all of Rice hated me – wanted me to stop writing – wanted me to stop existing, even.  I was seriously considering transferring universities.  Soorya was among a few upperclassmen who extended silent, clear support.  He “liked” my blog posts and terrible poetry and spoke to me directly and with respect, the same way he always had.  I never sensed pity or disdain from him.  I sensed optimism and hope.

The last conversation I clearly remember having with Soorya was last April, during Beer Bike.  I was wandering off by myself blowing giant bubbles when I caught Soorya’s attention.  “Wow,” he said, focusing on me with his camera.  I wasn’t drunk, but I was tipsy, and my lack of coordination combined with my self-consciousness stopped me from blowing any pretty, perfect bubbles.  

“Sorry,” I said.  “No, look!  These are great!” he responded, showing me the pictures.  And they were.  Soorya would do that.  He would take the most ordinary things and, through some combination of skill and magic, make them beautiful.

I will leave the title of this post blank, because I can think of no short word or phrase to encompass everything that he was, and I will not try.  Maybe it was because of his photographs of Shenandoah National Park that I think now of an excerpt from Pablo Neruda’s Cien Sonetos de Amor:

… suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.

My heart goes out to Soorya’s friends and family and to Rice, the school he loved so well.


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