For a moment, I sat dumbstruck. My cousin Alec was eighteen years old. He was a surfer and a comedian -a free spirit with long blonde hair and a smile so wide it could cover valleys. He could do the best accents I have ever heard. But now he was dead. After holding me for a while as we wept, my mother left my room on my assurance that I wanted to be alone. Still in shock, I decided to go to sleep. Maybe in the morning I would wake up to find that I had imagined it all. However, when I turned off the lights, I began screaming. The darkness weighed a thousand pounds and it pressed down on my chest, compressing all the air from my lungs. I did not sleep that night.
Before Alec's suicide, I had been
pushing, continually working my way towards better things (try using a word other than things) for as long as I could remember. As the only child of a single mother, I felt I owed it to her to be perfect. She had high aspirations for me, and though she never imposed them on me directly, I could tell they existed. I wanted to live up them. My motivation, as a result, was aimless. Had you asked me why I wanted to succeed, I would not have known the answer. "Because it was the 'right thing'," I might have offered meekly. And so I lived my life, through a series of self-imposed rights and wrongs, shoulds and should-nots in order to reach an undefined goal. For nearly seventeen years I barreled through life determined to achieve more, albeit, with this borrowed purpose. However , with the news of Alec's suicide, all of that changed.
As an only child, the closest I came to having siblings was my cousins, and Alec and I were by far the closest. Though I had had friends who had lost family members, I had never dealt with death myself; it was difficult.
Initially, I was angry. I was angry at his parents, who I felt had failed him. I was mad at his grandfather for giving him the gun. 'Ignorant, stupid, hick,' I thought. I was mad at his girlfriend, who, of all of us, should have seen this coming. I was even angry with Alec, for being weak, for not fighting through his pain. I hated him for leaving us. Soon, though, anger gave way to guilt. Although I lived across the Atlantic, I blamed myself for what had happened. I felt as if I should have been more supportive of him, should have been able to prevent his death. I regretted that our last exchange was a joking message I sent him about how eccentric his family was, referring to his father's recent marriage to one of his models. But as with most grief, my guilt soon gave way to depression.
Alec's suicide forced me to confront many of my long held beliefs about life and death. Though I was not religious, I had believed comfortably in an afterlife. It had reassured me to know there was something more than our mortal existence, that life continued even once it did not. After Alec killed himself,
though, it dawned on me that this probably was not the case. Sadly, I concluded that there is likely nothing after death.
This revelation was devastating. With nothing more to life than the biblical threescore and ten years that we are given on earth, what was the point, I wondered. Success had been my raison d'ętre, but if I was going to die in the end, what good was success? Alec's suicide ripped my motivation from me, and only jagged emptiness was left behind.
Before Alec's suicide, I had worked with an organization in my school called the Burmese Refugee Assistance Program (BRAP). It had been started by a group of students in 2009 who worked extensively with two villages of Burmese refugees in Thailand to improve their quality of life. Forced from Burma by an oppressive regime with practices of ethnic cleansing, the Karen and Lisu villagers were not recognized by the Thai government either. Because of this, they were not allowed to leave the province, discouraged from obtaining education, and denied government provided services. The first BRAP team in 2009 worked to raise the money to provide needed infrastructure and travelled to the villages over the summer to help build them.
The second BRAP team began in my junior year, and I had eagerly joined. The project became a passion of mine, and I dedicated myself to fundraising for future village projects. But like my other passions, BRAP, too, fell by the wayside after Alec's death. Though I remained on the team that was volunteering in Thailand in July, I relinquished most of my leadership responsibilities.
Then summer arrived. I still lacked the excitement I had previously felt for the trip to Thailand, but I had committed to the project. When we arrived in the village, I will not pretend I experienced some fairytale enlightenment or sudden rebirth of life. That is not how depression works. But as I saw the villagers' needs, the ember of motivation in my heart -whose warmth I had long since ceased to feel -slowly began to reignite. The villagers were so grateful for our help. Our liaison Manop told me of the difference our fundraising had made in the villagers' lives. I began once again to feel the motivation I had lost after Alec's death.
For the two weeks we were there, I gave my best to our projects. For hours, I carried rocks to the top of the mountain for the landslide barrier we were building. I dug foundations until my handscallused and bled. I stood bent over, mixing bucket after bucket of cement in sweltering heat. And on the last night when I fell onto my straw mat, for the first time since Alec's suicide, I felt content. The next day all of the villagers came to say goodbye to us and to thank us for what we had done. One family, for whom we had built a latrine, was so thankful that they used the meager amount of cloth they had to make bags for us. As we said our farewells, Manop translated the villagers' words for us: "Thank you so much for all you have done. You have changed our lives."
When you receive this essay, it will have been eleven months since Alec's suicide. At first, I suffered the realization that there is no life after death, but seeing the impact of our work in Thailand, I have since come to believe otherwise. There may not be a heaven as I previously envisioned it, but we survive through our actions and the effects we have on other people's lives. In Thailand I was fortunate enough to touch somebody's life in the way that Alec had touched mine. I may never return to those villages, but I hope to live on in the mortar of a wall or the stone of a foundation. Similarly, I have realized that Alec lives on -in the Facebook group started in his memory, in the hundreds of kind posts he still receives each month, even in my daily remembrance of him. Before Alec's suicide, I strived to excel -in academics, athletics, and life in general -but these last months have helped me recalibrate my definition of success. While I still hope to succeed in the manner I did before, my greatest aspiration now is simply to touch the lives of others in such a brilliant way as Alec's life touched mine.[/quote]
Extremely touching. R.I.P Alec.
Relating to the essay, don't use abreviations because it isn't formal. I also don't see why you shouldn't send in an essay about faith, it what makes you who you are after all. However, I would advise you to change the sentence:
"At first, I suffered the realization that there is no life after death, but seeing the impact of our work in Thailand, I have since come to believe otherwise." to something more flexibile implying that you believe that there is nothing after death instead of stating it as if it is an actual fact. You know, to make this essay more of an opinion and so it doesn't annoy the reader incase he was a believer. However, just to make sure, ask a teacher if it is alright to post this essay in your common application.
You know how you alternate between how your life was before Alec's suicide and how it changed after his death. I would suggest you start off your essay with your definition of success and your contributions to your society. Then maybe end that paragraph with a sentence like: However, all of this changed in a matter of seconds.
and then start your new paragraph with your current first one.
I would only suggest you do that as it seems all over the place when you alternate between your past and your present.
This is an amazing essay, you're a very good story teller.