One of my favorite things about Saturday mornings is waking up late to a steamy cup of coffee and some good reading material. No matter what I have planned for the day, I like to start my weekend with a few moments of solitude. I look forward to it, knowing the familiar comfort of the coffee aroma and the feel of my big leather desk chair as I settle in. A creature of habit, the pattern is always the same; I open my laptop and check the latest MedPage Today journal articles, followed by the Health pages of the Washington Post. Of course, once you open the Pandora’s box that is looking at an online newspaper the web of linked articles sucks you in with enticing taglines you didn’t even know you had to read.
This morning I stumbled upon one article that I found particularly absorbing- “How to live your life: Advice from an American student who was killed in Egypt.” The article includes a letter Andrew Pochter, a 21-year old college student from Chevy Chase, MD, wrote to a young boy he mentored at an at risk summer camp. The letter was sent before Andrew’s untimely death in Alexandria, Egypt where he was killed as a bystander during an anti-government demonstration. His letter appears below:
Hello how are you man? I can’t believe it has been a year since camp. I am sure you are wiser, taller and smarter since I saw you last. Please accept my apologies that I will not be there for the graduation ceremony. Right now I am in Alexandria, Egypt teaching English to young students who are around your age. They all speak Arabic so learning English as a second language is quite difficult. But they are all really intelligent, just like you! You would really like the Arabic language, you should check it out!
Egypt is hazardous right now because the country is feeling the consequences of a enormous political revolution. I lose electricity and water all of the time but that’s okay because I have many Egyptian friends to help take care of me. When I am in trouble, they take care of me and when they are in trouble, I always take care of them. Good friends do not come easily but as a rule, I always appreciate the good deeds people do for me even if I don’t know them well. What is most important is that I am trying to do my best for others. I want to surround myself with good people!
I did not come up with this personal philosophy on my own. Without thoughtful and caring people like you, I would probably be a mean and grumpy person. Your kind heart and genuine character serve as a model for me. I hope that you will never stop your curiosity for the beautiful things in life. Go on hikes in forests, canyons and mountains, go fishing, research wildlife, and get out of city Life if you can. Surround yourself with good friends who care about your future. Fall in love with someone. Get your heart broken. And then move on and fall in love again. Breathe life every day like it is your first. Find something that you love to do and never stop doing that thing unless you find something else you love more.
Don’t blame others for their mistakes. It makes you weak. You are a strong man who does not need to be weighted down by people who only complain and say negative things. Speak with conviction and believe in yourself because your personal confidence is just as important as your education.
I wish I could be there to say my congratulations but I know that it wouldn’t change much. You have earned it. Hopefully one day you will hang up this diploma next your high school and college diplomas as well.
Try not to forget me. If you ever need anything, just email:
Andrew’s unbridled, passionate voice–that of a young person who has not forgotten to care–reminds me of the simple truths we so easily forget. I see a lot of myself in Andrew’s voice. His compassion, curiosity and hopefulness should be aspirations for us all. As we get older and responsibilities of work, family, the daily chores of life and disappointments begin to weigh on us I find it refreshing to be reminded of the approach to life I had at 21.
To quote Thomas Swift, “may we live all the days of our lives.” And may those days be filled as much as possible with kindness and good. Thank you Andrew for the reminder.