What Happens After Our Idols Pass On?

It was a cold December morning when I received news of my middle school homeroom teacher’s death. I was brewing my morning coffee, readying myself for an anatomy final that was to take place in less than an hour, and I decided to check the Discord server that I shared with my friends from middle school.

I was scrolling through the general channel, catching myself up with the messages that my friends had sent while I was asleep, when I came across a news article from my hometown that had been posted four hours before. The headline wrote in blunt yet simultaneously pitiful language: “EXPAT TEACHER AND FAMILY MAN DIES IN FOREIGN LAND.” Intrigued, I read through the first few paragraphs of the article when a name caught my eye. It was the name of my middle school homeroom teacher, a man whom I had last seen five years before. He had gotten in an accident while driving home from a long day at work; he was immediately sent to the hospital, but died there of his injuries from the crash. He was still working as a teacher in the same school where I had been in his class.

He was 52 years old, not close to retirement age, and he left behind a wife and two children, the eldest of whom was my age and in his second year of undergraduate studies. Almost immediately, a sense of empathetic pity washed over me—I could never envision suffering from the loss of an immediate family member at such a young age, even before I could let them see for themselves the successes that I might later enjoy in my career and adult life.

But then a new realization, much more tragic than that sense of pity, came to my senses: that was the first piece of news that I had read about my teacher in five years. From the moment that I graduated from middle school, I had not seen my teacher, had not heard about him while I moved into high school and met new groups of friends, peers, and teachers. I hadn’t even given a single thought about him as I left for my university education on the other side of the world, as I learned to embrace the lifestyle and people of another nation. And now this piece of news was the last I would ever hear from him: his first, middle, and last name, added to a description of his death, taking place an ocean away, back in the city where I grew up.

Memories of his role in my school years began to reappear. This was the teacher with whom my peers and I had spent four academic years, during the very beginnings of our adolescence—the individual who would watch over us as we chatted with one another, who encouraged the quieter ones among us to make friends with our peers. Who would ask us about the weekends that we had just spent, the weekends that we were about to spend, and everything in between. Who would give us the opportunity to share our hobbies with our peers and discuss the current events of the day. Homeroom was only twenty minutes every morning—far from being a significant chunk of our school day—but it allowed us to create a community based around positive communication, at a time when our juvenile minds rarely thought of anything positive to say. And much of that was thanks to my homeroom teacher, who was there to inspire us.

Although I’d gotten ever so detached from our middle school days, opting to treat them as my blunder years and to erase them from my memory, I still felt a sense of respect for him, for all that he had done. And his passing, right when I’d all but forgotten about him, came as a shock: I had always assumed that he would be alive, still teaching classes, still cultivating an environment for bonding between fellow students. But now he was gone, no longer a part of this world. He would be missed, not only by his wife and children, his family and friends—but also by the students that he had taught and mentored.

In a way, my homeroom teacher’s passing and the thoughts that had generated in the days following the event reminded me of how we view our childhood idols, those people who performed in the TV shows and songs with which we were obsessed for much of our pre-adult life. As we grew up and we explored new genres and forms of multimedia, we gradually abandoned the material that we’d known as children and adolescents. We wouldn’t even mention them when we met new people and told them about our favourite musicians and movies. But when one of our childhood or teenage idols passed away, we would remember the role they had played in our coming of age and mourn them. We would always have assumed that they were still alive, creating new material or revisiting old material somewhere. The news that they had left us would appear out of left field and strike us where we expected it least.

But, in the end, death is inevitable. Even if I hadn’t known about my teacher’s death, enough time would pass for me to automatically assume that he would have died by now. It was just that his death was noteworthy enough to be written about in a newspaper article that would be posted by my friends onto our Discord server. And I ruminated about his passing for a while, even after my anatomy exam, before realizing that I should probably move on, for there was no turning back time and no way to revive the dead.

Our childhood idols shall all pass on someday as well—and we will have to gather up the courage to accept that fact and get along with our lives. For they are now only a component of the past, and we still have many a day to experience in the future.

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