Happy 24th Birthday, Kevin!

Dear Kevin,

Happy 24th Birthday!!

I know I’m one day late with sending you this birthday message, but that’s because I was traveling. Why am I not surprised that I was coincidentally traveling by plane to Chicago on your birthday…

Remember that time I was stranded at Chicago O’Hare on Christmas Eve of 2008? The night you rescued me so that I wouldn’t be waiting for Santa Claus in an airport terminal? On our way to DeKalb, remember how Keerti was hungry so we stopped at the O’Hare Oasis rest area for food? Well, for old times’ sake, I paid another visit to that same rest area a couple hours ago… just to briefly relive that moment.

I’m here in town for the weekend to serve as the pianist for a fellow Cornellian’s wedding. I was looking forward to someday playing piano at your wedding as well. But it’s okay, the bells across the heavens are being rung on this day in your honor for the huge impact that you’ve made on countless peoples’ lives. No ceremony on earth could possibly do that any justice!

After your “life celebration” in January, I promised Pooja and Keerti that the next time I came to the Chicago area, I would go visit them and your Mom and Dad. Unfortunately for me, they are not here right now. But they are currently having a great time visiting your favorite vacation spot in New Hampshire! I remember how much you used to rave about that state! You would be happy to know that yesterday, your whole family climbed your favorite Sugarloaf Mountain. They did it for you!

The last time I saw you, you were resting peacefully on a snowy day in January. Hundreds of people came to visit and to celebrate your amazing life. Family, friends, neighbors, classmates – even those who were just mere acquaintances – all showed up! Hundreds of people lined up for hours just to see you! The energy of the crowd and their strength in numbers proved just how many peoples’ lives you touched. I wish you could’ve been there to see it!! But then again, you were there… You couldn’t talk to us or interject with your characteristically witty comments, but you were there. You were there in our smiles. You were there in our tears. You were there in our hearts. You were present whenever a kind deed was done in your honor – and there have been many since that day… trust me!

Right now, you live in each and every one of us, so my birthday e-mail to you is rightly posted here for all whose lives you have touched.

Did you know that your Facebook profile is still active? Yeah, people have continued to write on your wall ever since the last day I saw you! You still continue to pop up on my newsfeed fairly regularly, either from someone sharing a life lesson that you inspired, or someone thanking you for indirectly helping him or her cope with a particular life challenge. It’s absolutely remarkable! I bet you never thought you would keep on inspiring long after you left this world behind, did you? Remember how, at one point, you were concerned that maybe you would not have enough time to accomplish your goal of inspiring people? Well, I am happy to report that you were wrong.    😛    You are truly a legacy, my friend!

Here are some examples of the flood of Facebook wall posts you’ve gotten in just the last couple of days:

I love seeing your name on my wall… it reminds me that you are watching us from above… I feel blessed to have known you… forever my teacher and inspiration.  ~Bonniejean

Happy Birthday Kevin – I wish you could read this so I could tell you in person how much your story has influenced my most recent life path – your legacy will truly live on.  ~Greg

Love you and miss you… you will never be forgotten.  ~Mom
P.S. Do you have FB in heaven?

Happy birthday my man. We all miss our fearless leader. Thanks for looking over us, buddy.  ~Keith

Happy Birthday Kevin!! I am thinking of you today and all the lives you have touched with your amazing character and loving spirit! As I work on my nonprofit and carry your motto for change in the world… it strengthens me! Thank you! Sending love up to you and out to your beautiful family!  ~Jackie

Hey, buddy… I need your help with something. I’ve got a good friend from kindergarten with a bad brain tumor, and he’s going to be joining you in a month or so… his name’s Gary. He’s a lot like you… spunky, brave, funny, incredibly kind, really good at video games, curly hair (although his is blonde)… When he shows up, help him settle in and show him around. I’ll miss him, but I’ll feel a lot better about saying goodbye to him if I know you’ve got his back. Also, he plays guitar, so you could probably start a band together. Love you. And happy early birthday. I bet the angel food cake up there is probably awesome.  ~Marybeth

As if these didn’t already speak volumes, you would be happy to know that I’ve received countless e-mails and messages outside of Facebook – some from total strangers – who simply wanted to express how much of an impact you and your story have made in their lives. I even received this one:

I am glad to learn that there is a scholarship fund at Cornell in Kevin’s memory…  ~President Skorton, Cornell University

Needless to say, Kev, you’ve done us all proud!

Another one of your friends (Moira) posted this anonymous poem on your Facebook wall, as if on your behalf. In fact, I can hear you saying these words right now, through the breeze that is currently rolling through the Illinois landscape outside my window:

Today is my birthday
Be happy for me
I lived short, but full
I had the pleasure of love
And the joy of my family.
Do not be sad
Look up towards the stars
And catch each twinkle
In your heart.
For I am there with you

Today is my birthday
My legacy is not wealth
Or mighty belongings,
My legacy is you and your life.
Spend it wisely and carefully
Guard it always
Do not be sad
Feel the wind on your face
And in your hair
And know that I loved you
For I am there with you in your laughter
And in your hearts.

Today is my birthday
Learn to live again without me,
Take my strength with you
For you are not alone.
Do not be sad
Feel the rain on your face
Feel all life’s treasures and
Know that you are alive!
At each step of the way
I will help you
For I am with you always
Until we meet again.

Today is my birthday…

So today, as you celebrate your 24th earthly birthday from above, know that a bunch of your friends are still thinking about you every day. Whenever we meet some challenge or find ourselves facing a difficult life decision, we remember many of the wise words that you shared with us while you were down here. Whether you knew it or not, you led by example. You taught us the wisdom of the ages through your simple acts of kindness. You contributed much more than just the words; your actions spoke so much louder.

But, as inspirational as you were for all of us, we will also never forget those moments of wit and humor that you were able to bring into our lives. You simply brightened up the room wherever you were. You were able to turn even the most mundane moments into memories with random fits of laughter. There was never a dull moment when you were around. Remember this night two summers ago? Even a year and a half into your treatment, your level of energy was still ridiculous.

Good times, good times…

Your family, friends, and I will continue to strive to do the work that you had wanted to complete here on earth. I know how much you wanted to be a teacher and to help kids get a good education. So sometime this coming school year, I’m planning to give some guest lectures to middle school kids in Hawaii to help inspire them to pursue careers in science and technology, because that is what built this country of opportunity a century ago. I will do this in your honor, and I will be sure to share this quote that we created and agreed to live by that one night we stayed up really late in your living room:

An insurmountable object, emotion, or thought is nothing more than our reluctance to take up the challenge of trying to understand it.

Anyway, I need to get going. It’s time to head over to the church for rehearsal. It’s too bad I wasn’t able to hitch a ride with you from Chicago O’Hare this morning. I had to rent a car instead. But no worries… thankfully, there aren’t piles of snow on the road this time around, so I think I’ll manage. I’ll be sure to say a little prayer for you by the altar. I’m sure you don’t need it, but hey, memories are timeless, and thoughts are priceless.

Hope all is well, Kev. Happy birthday! We are all very proud of you. Keep on drummin’!

Miss ya buddy,

Owen

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2 Responses to Happy 24th Birthday, Kevin!

  1. Diane, Kevin's mom says:

    Owen, you couldn’t have given Kevin (and our family) a better birthday gift than this beautifully sensitive and heartfelt piece. That poem was beautiful (I haven’t been on Kevin’s FB page yet so I hadn’t read it) and I remember so well Kevin’s encounter with my exercise ball! He always had such great balance – he should have been a gymnast or a competitive high diver. Or, a Cornell hockey player!

    I do have to share this with you…I have not had any dreams about Kevin that I can remember, but yesterday morning, I had a dream that I was in a building and a young man came in with some bombs and a half-dozen sticks of dynamite strung together, with the intention of blowing all of us up in the building. I went up to him and told him that I had recently lost my son to leukemia after a three year battle. Then somehow I pulled out a hard copy of the blog you wrote, “In Memoriam – Kevin Ballantine,” and gave it to him and asked him to read it. My hope was that he would see that there was something much more to life than blowing up innocent people. I stood by him, holding my breath, hoping that it would sway him, and several times had to redirect his attention to it, but he finished it…and changed his mind about detonating the explosives.

    I rarely remember my dreams…and perhaps this was just a random event that percolated to my consciousness, but I think it was significant that I had this dream on Kevin’s birthday, and that both he and you worked together, in a way, to peacefully diffuse a very difficult situation.

    I hope your weekend and the wedding was exceptional! And I am sure our paths will cross again, soon…Thank you again for this gift to Kevin and us!

    • untamedskies says:

      Hi Diane!

      I’m very happy to hear that this blog may have in some small way helped to diffuse any lingering, internal stress. Writing allows me to organize my thoughts, and I have found it helpful to put ideas down on paper, either in a traveling notebook or here on this blog. Kevin’s story and legacy is truly remarkable. As time goes on, the more I am impressed by how many people’s lives were positively impacted by Kevin’s life. In many ways, as unfortunate as the circumstances were, they have allowed Kevin to continue to live out his life goal of helping and inspiring people! If there were ever an example of the positive light of hope arising from the darkness of uncertainty and doubt – like the phoenix rising from its ashes – this is it!

      I look forward to the next time our paths cross again! Please say hi to everyone for me!

      Best wishes,

      Owen

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