Daily Dose

An Angel Named Calvin

When words fail, music speaks.

-Hans Christian Anderson

Two weeks ago I received the news that my beloved student with whom I connected deeply through music, passed away in his sleep. He was 19 years young. I am going to do my best to shine a light on his beautifully loving soul, and when my words fail, I will let music speak. To his mom and dad, I want to thank you for raising this incredible human, and trusting him in our care at Sage International School. To his step-families, may you have all the strength and patience to support your family as you grieve together. To his sister, I hope that his light will shine in you always and ignite a spark of joy in your darkest days.

From the musical Wicked

“I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason bringing something we must learn. And we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them. And we help them in return… It may well be that we will never meet again in this lifetime, so let me say before we part that so much of me is made of what I’ve learned from you. You’ll be with me, like a handprint on my heart” –For Good

On the morning of September 8th, 2021 I was anticipating my former student Calvin to return to my classroom to speak with my students about his incredible life story and the role that music played in it. My school was in the middle of a special week that we call Sagefort, which was incidentally created back in 2018 in his honor. You see, back in February of 2018, this young man took a gun to his head in an attempt to take his life. By some miracle, he survived the head shot wound. Not only did he survive, but he thrived afterwards. Back in 2018, many of us feared that he would not live, let alone walk and talk and lip sync to Backstreet Boys songs. I was at a concert while Calvin was still in the hospital recovering and we were all wondering if he would survive. Philip Phillips sang a song called “Raging Fire” and I knew right then and there that no matter what would happen, I wanted to bring a light to the conversation about mental health in our school. We formed a group of teachers and students called “Be the change” and created what is now known as Sagefort. Sagefort would be a week dedicated to mental health, community and connection. No academics. This was the school of life. Our first Sagefort was launched in May of 2018, and incredibly, Calvin was there to partake in the experience.

From Raging Fire by Phillip Phillips

“Yeah we live until we die, so come out, come out, come out, won’t you turn my soul into a raging fire?” –the song that ignited the spark in me to address mental health in our schools.

It was 7:30am and the morning assembly for Sagefort was about to start. I sent Calvin a message saying “can’t wait to see you later today!” And there was no response. That wasn’t like Calvin. But I shrugged it off, went forward with the assembly and checked my phone again at lunch. Still no message. I went in to see my co-worker who had just had dinner with him the previous night. She said everything seemed fine. In fact, he seemed so fine that when he agreed to house sit for her in the upcoming weeks, he decided to get hooked up with the wifi password and front door key right then and there. He was all in! That was like Calvin. Not responding to a message, however, wasn’t. 12:30pm rolled around and my afternoon music class had started. Luckily I had a planned activity for the students while we awaited our special guest speaker. At 2pm when we took a break I went outside to call him. No response. My heart was getting worried and I left him a message that he would never hear. After school I texted his mom. It was around 9pm that evening when I received a text message from his step-dad which said that Calvin had unexpectedly passed away that morning. The world stopped. And then the pain that rose from my gut and out into the universe came in the form of a cry as I fell to my knees asking “why” and saying “no” over and over again. After all that he had been through, why now? He was in such good place with such a bright future ahead of him. This can’t be! It’s a mistake! Why now? Why oh why just months after his older brother had unexpectedly passed away? How could this be? How could the universe be so cruel? If I, his teacher, was feeling this level of devastation, how could his family possibly bear this amount of loss?

From Take me Home Country Roads by John Denver

“Dark and dusty, painted on the sky; Misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye; Country Roads, take me home to the place I belong” –one of Calvin’s favorite songs to sing at the top of his lungs!

I don’t know what you believe to be true about stars and oracles and signs from beyond, but I know this to be true: when I get quiet and sit with the questions that make no sense to me at all, I can usually find the answers. As I sat on my bed alone on Friday night, I had a moment of quiet for the first time since I learned the devastating news, and surprisingly a sense of peace washed over me. I heard the message that I didn’t need to carry his mother’s pain anymore. She was on a different journey of grief than mine and if I wanted to be someone who could support her and others through their grief, I would need to handle mine first. For me to try to make sense of what happened and understand its significance in my life, I had to first look at the timing of events. I don’t believe in coincidences, and Calvin and I would talk about that often. Immediately I was certain that the timing of his passing during Sagefort week, and more precisely, on the very morning that he was planning to come speak to my class about how music helped him through his recovery, held significance. Sagefort provided a place for him to boldly share his story in previous years. It was perhaps the first place where he publicly shared his story about his suicide attempt and the true beauty of life that he found on the other side. As if Sagefort didn’t already grow from the roots of his brush with death, now Sagefort will live on in memory and honor of his name and his message about life.

I know if Calvin had come in that day to speak to my class he would have shared the song A Perfect World by his musical idol Phora. Phora’s music helped him through his recovery and on most pre-pandemic mornings, Calvin and I would talk before school about life and tacos and first dates and mostly about Phora’s musical influence on his life. He shared A Perfect World with me early in 2020, just months before he was about to go see his idol in concert and it touched me in a profound way. Listening to it again the day after his death gave the song completely new meaning; it gave it a weight and insight and it was so perfectly everything that Calvin believed in. It encapsulates his hope in humanity and how he was going to be the change in our community, and one day, he had hoped the world.

From A Perfect World by Phora

My mom always told me:
“Close your eyes, picture the waves crashing
Imagine yourself there with no worries”
That’s the only thing that ever really helps
So much going on in this world
Sometimes I wonder if we were able to think our
Own heaven into existence
What would mine be like?
Well, I think I finally found it
Better yet, I think it’s been with me all along” –a song Calvin shared with me in 2020
Calvin and Phora, March 2020

Those words by Phora are imprinted under Calvin’s senior portrait in our 2020 yearbook. They were shared again by his mom at his Celebration of Life. Phroa’s lyrics touched Calvin’s soul in a profound way, and I believe that the power of music is beyond words. It allows us to feel and to express what we cannot otherwise articulate. If I could I would personally thank Phora for using the hardships of his own life to shine a light into Calvin’s. Calvin in turn has shared his light with countless others. And here I am today doing my best to shine that light even further. Since Calvin’s brush with the other side in 2018, he truly was living from a place where he breathed his own heaven into existence. In the past few weeks a myriad of stories have been told about how Calvin would spontaneously call a friend to take a study break and go grab a coffee or to dance in the street, or give a hug, or take a drive while singing at the top of his lungs. When in his presence, he made you feel like you were the only person who mattered. He was truly present in life, short as though it may have been. His dad said that his legacy is Love, and that about sums it up.

From 93,000,000 Miles by Jason Mraz

“Oh, my, my
How beautiful
Oh my irrefutable father
He told me
Son sometimes it may seem dark
But the absence of the light is a necessary part
Just know, that you’re never alone
You can always come back home” — a song I shared with Calvin after his attempt in 2018

In a perfect world, children wouldn’t be dying before their parents. In a perfect world teachers wouldn’t be reuniting with former students to grieve the loss of a classmate only a year after their graduation. In a perfect world, sisters wouldn’t lose two brothers in the timespan of 100 days. In a perfect world we would all love each other a little bit more and be a little bit kinder to strangers and neighbors alike. Calvin had a vision for a perfect world and was living his life by example. I cannot express how heartbroken I am that I never got to have that last hug and conversation about music and life and love with Calvin and my students that Wednesday. I know I can still talk to him, but it’s different now. He has exchanged his worldly body for the wings of an angel. He speaks to me though signs, like a “be the change” sticker that I randomly found just moments after crying out to him to help me make sense of his death. Or the “Take Me Home Country Roads” sign that I came across in a consignment store; when I went to purchase it for a co-worker the cashier told me he had just hung that sign that very morning. Or the blue butterfly that was hanging in my friend’s hallway a few days after his passing; Phora used the blue butterfly in his Love Yourself Tour, which is the tour where Calvin met him. Calvin and I exchanged a lot of blue butterflies over text messages in those days, and it will alway remind me of him. I see blue butterflies everywhere now. Or the double rainbow that appeared in the sky after an afternoon of sadness; in many areas of my neighborhood, it hadn’t even rained, and yet, not one, but two rainbows appeared to remind me that everything was going to be alright. Even if it wasn’t alright right now, that was alright. Or the full moon that shines in the sky tonight. Just a month before he passed, Calvin got a beautiful tattoo to pay homage to his older brother who had tragically also recently passed away. The tattoo depicts his brother’s birthday in roman numerals completing a circle of a crescent moon.

What Calvin wrote about his tattoo:

“I feel like the moon is a good representation of who Jake has always been to me; during the day time, you look up you may not see the moon at all, like it vanished, but deep down you know the moon is there, and always will be there. A lot can be said about my brother, but I know that I’ll never go a day without seeing him in my life”. –Calvin, August 2021

For those of us where were fortunate enough to have known Calvin, it would do us well to take his words to heart. He was bravely facing grief in the last months of his life, but he channeled that pain to strengthen him and resolve him to live a better, more fully present and loving existence. Now we too have to look beyond what’s right in front of us to see Calvin. We have to look for the signs.

Just like in the winter of 2018, I found myself at a concert just days after Calvin’s passing. My heart was feeling so heavy and my soul was weary. But I believed that the music would speak to me once more, and it did. Michael Franti filled the auditorium with good vibes and songs about love and life and community and connection. His soul purpose on earth (pun intended) is to share the message of love. Just like I think Calvin’s was. I will miss talking person to person with Calvin but I know now that I will always be able to communicate with him through music, and butterflies and the moon. I am open to the signs from my Angel named Calvin and the more I look, the more I see and that small mental shift has redirected my soul out of darkness back onto it’s path of light.

I can still feel you by Michael Franti

“So, put your hand in mine, won’t you show me a sign
That you’re here with me in heaven tonight
Come on and shine your light when I’m closing my eyes
Let me know everything will be alright
‘Cause I can still feel you”

Living Life Palms Up

At his Celebration of Life his pastor commented on the photo that appears at the top of this post. He said what he loved most about the picture was that Calvin was standing there with palms up. Palms up signifies being open to receive. Being open hearted and open minded. Being open to see the signs from the other side of the universe. Perhaps you never met Calvin, but my guess is that someone comes to mind as you’re reading this and that they may have left the humanly realm before you would have liked. Ask them to send you a sign. Be specific. What they loved here on earth, they bring with them when they cross over. Then lift your eyes to the sky, give thanks for their love in your life, and turn your palms up to receive their message. They are there and they’ve been waiting for you to reach out. Palms up baby!

For further reading about signs, I highly recommend the book “Signs, the Secret Language of the Universe” by Laura Lynne Jackson. It comforted me in my grief, and has allowed me to live palms up. Namaste.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *