The Story We Need to Cope



Honoring those we have lost by the lives that we live.

My passion for sports always stemmed from the amazing stories that could come from a game, a season, or a player. As someone could be transported or moved by a piece of fiction or a song or a piece of art, I could be inspired by a story about a player or game. Sometimes, we are lucky enough to carry the stories with us to help us in our moments of need or push us in the right direction. Sometimes though, we forget the important stories, and they have to find their way back to us. That’s what happened when I needed it most in recent weeks, and it is the reason I continue to write stories — the possibility that my story will help someone who has experienced tragedy this year even.

In hearing of the tragic death of Haley Rue, I like so many others was shocked and saddened. My shock and sadness were deepened because of the tragedies that Harvard College had already experienced earlier in the year with the deaths of Angela Mathew and Andrew Sun. One tragedy was inexplicable. The combination of the three seemed unfair. It made me angry. It was outside of my comprehension in its totality. All of these thoughts were running through my mind when I was reacquainted with the story of Wally Pontiff.

Wally Pontiff Jr. was a baseball player heading into his senior year at Louisiana State University. On a summer day, Wally was at home when one morning he did not wake up. Wally had a heart condition that had gone undetected, and Wally died in his sleep at the age of twenty-one. He passed away twelve years ago last week.

I barely knew Wally. He was twelve years older than me. My dad knew his dad, so I had crossed his path a few times. Yet, when I heard that Wally had died, I remembered feeling an inexplicable emotion that involved this pit in my stomach that simply would not dissipate. All I could think was here was someone who was twenty-one. He had just been drafted to play Major League Baseball by the Oakland Athletics. How could someone so young with so much talent be taken from us?

Wally though was so much more than just an outstanding baseball player. He had been named to the All-Academic team for baseball. He had a strong religious faith. He would always talk about the support of his family in interviews. In fact, the last time I saw Wally was just days before his death when he was volunteering as a coach for a baseball clinic at the park where I played. My parents would often point out Wally as someone to look up to. As all of these thoughts ran through my head, the pit in my stomach just grew deeper.

Sadly, the Harvard community has felt some equivalent to the pit that grew in my stomach twelve years ago three times this year with the deaths of Angela Mathew, Andrew Sun, and Haley Rue most recently. Here were three supremely talented people be it in art or writing or speech. All three were taken too soon.

Like Wally though, these three were mourned and remembered for so much more than their talents. We remembered their smiles, the way that they could make us laugh, their willingness to just be our friends. It is for those moments more than anything that we will miss them. It is our desire to have a few more of those moments that we mourn.

After hearing of Haley’s death, I came upon a simple article on the Internet that mentioned that it was the twelve-year anniversary of Wally’s death. The article was very short. I don’t even know if it was even published in a paper. But, the comment section of the announcement had exploded with people remembering Wally. People were telling stories about how Wally had touched them. Some people were praising the work that the foundation started in his honor had accomplished. Most of the comments just thanked Wally for inspiring their world in some small way.

If we continue to feel a tug from someone who has passed away, if we literally feel their power, have we truly lost them? I don’t think so. If we allow their lives to affect our own, do we not carry some little piece of them? Living in their footsteps doesn’t lessen the pain, but it is the best that we can do day in and day out to honor them.

Following all three Harvard tragedies, people commented on the ways in which they had been inspired by Angela or Andrew or Haley. Those comments for many of us led to more mourning, as they should. The world lost three irreplaceable people. But, let these comments also give us hope. As I learned while reading the comments about Wally, even twelve years cannot remove the inspiration that Wally gave to the world. Chances are not twelve years, not thirty years, not any amount of time can dim the light that Andrew, Angela, and Hailey left shining in the world. It is our job to let the lights of their lives guide our own lives. Then, tell our own story and let those stories touch someone else.

Peyton Fine ’17 (peytonfine@college) struggles like so many others to make sense of tragedy, but likes to believe that allowing the lives of those we have lost to inspire us can honor them in some small way.