In Memory of Abe

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Today marks the second anniversary of the death of Abe Pishevar, a beloved member and graduate of Camp Ayandeh. I had the distinct privilege of knowing Abe and watching him grow for two summers. Like other adults in Abe’s life, I was constantly in awe of the level of maturity and compassion he demonstrated.

I met Abe during his first summer at Camp Ayandeh in 2013. I remember the first time Abe approached me, he politely introduced himself because he wanted me to ‘know him.’ Before me stood a young man with manners any mother could only dream of and a sense of self uncharacteristic of someone his age. I watched during the rest of that summer as Abe befriended the younger members of our community and gained the respect of his peers. Despite being new, Abe quickly became a mentor and role model, even going so far as to build a strong community for the other men on his residence theme hall.

Very few experiences at camp ever surprise me, but the only time I was struck speechless at camp was in 2013 when Abe coordinated a ‘two clap’ after my speech on his floor. I’d just spent twenty minutes giving one of my notorious “I expect more from you” speeches to all of the young men when, at Abe’s order, the group gave a synchronized two-clap. It was my first experience receiving one of Abe’s  famous ‘two clap’ tributes, which became a tradition as a way to appreciate and honor members of our community. Abe showed everyone, including me, unwavering support. 

Abe was the heart of our 2014 community. He was the most supportive and vocal member, right up until he lost his voice from all the cheering he’d done in the days prior. When he could no longer verbally praise the other youth, he asked that I make an announcement so that nobody would ‘be upset he isn’t coming up to speak to them.’ Abe wrote messages on paper and used hand signs to communicate for the rest of the program. He organized dances, celebrated others, and led the community by example. Abe was the epitome of every quality we hoped to instill in our youth.

I cannot take credit for Abe’s excellence; he was already a strong person and incredible leader. I do not claim to have known him for very long – Abe spent years contributing to his school, local community and various sports teams. But in the short time that Abe was part of our community, he became an integral leader.  Abe protected our youngest members, rejected social cliques, and strengthened our bonds at every turn. 

Abe was a brother and friend to virtually everyone – and each of us, no matter our age, looked up to him and followed his example. He made all of us want to be the best and most loving versions of ourselves.

I’ve never really been able to write about Abe, though I do think of him often.  I think of Abe whenever I see a young male in need of a strong role model. I think of Abe during our theme halls as he was known to start a spontaneous dance party or a game of zombie. Often it’s when I feel his absence in our community that I think of him the most.

Until Abe, I had never properly grieved. I didn’t want to be good at grieving, didn’t want to accept the deaths of loved ones. As one of the youngest in my family, I believed I wasn’t supposed to know how to grieve well yet. With Abe’s death, I felt a new sense of responsibility as one of the oldest in our community. I wanted to model grief well for our youth, many of whom were experiencing loss for the first time.

Grieving is personal. It reflects our perspective on life, our beliefs about an afterlife, and ultimately, no one can judge how others grieve. But as a community, I wanted more for us. I believed that Abe deserved to be more than a tragic figure. I hoped we would think of Abe with the same joy he provided us in life, and that our memories of him wouldn’t be overshadowed by our pain.

Now, thanks to Abe, instead of avoiding thinking about those I’ve lost, or shutting them away painfully in the deepest recesses of my heart, I try to carry a piece of each person and make my life part of their legacy by amplifying a quality unique to them.

In Abe’s memory, I carry his legacy of compassion and try to honor him through my actions. He inspired many of our younger leaders by his example. Abe wrote the paragraph below, and I find myself reading it on occasion.

“I believe leadership is not something that can be taught, but earned. A leader does not choose to lead, but is chosen by others. A leader becomes a leader not for himself, but for others and it is that that defines a leader’s most important quality. A leader is selfless. A leader puts others in front of him; every action he makes is considering how others may be affected. For me to become a leader I wish to learn where everyone comes from, their backgrounds, their insights, and how they see themselves and society. In my hopes of becoming a leader I must first learn how to understand others in order to lead them better. I have felt that I have tried throughout my life to not do what is best for me, but for others, in order to set an example. I feel that the interests of others are more important to me than my own. However, I fail at this sometimes and at camp I wish to learn how to become more selfless for the needs of others. I hope to achieve a better understanding of how to affect others more positively at camp in order that I may provide more for the good of the community rather than myself.”      ~Abe Pishevar     

Even now, I learn from Abe.

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