Passages: For Aida, And A Thousand Stars


Aida was an outlier in my very first English class, a summer school test-run after years teaching media and instructional technology. Bright, beautiful, articulate, and quietly confident at just thirteen years old, she didn’t really belong in the remedial program, but she had lost most of a year to hearing issues and poor health, and now, recovering from implant surgery, she was mostly just there for the credit, to justify her existence in high school.

So while other students struggled to focus, to read, and to care, Aida wrote volumes, and shared with me the fruits of her blossoming awareness and skill. I gave her my copy of The Poet’s Dictionary, and spoke quietly to her in passing and after class about sestinas and pantoums, rhythm and language as a path to the self. She could talk literature and heartache with a wisdom far beyond the capacity of most adults I know. And that smile was the sweetest ever – grateful, knowing, wry; one that lingers in the memory, even now.

I’ve taught thousands of students in over two decades in education. In a very real way, I’ve loved them all. But once a year or so, if you’re lucky, you get a couple of students that connect on a much deeper level – the kind of kids you happily break the rules for, and drive them to work in the shampoo warehouse on the other side of the city because you just want a chance to chat with another bright, vibrant human being, and to be a part of their climb out of the city, to the stars.

Aida wasn’t the first of these kids, and she wasn’t the only one from her year – being a class advisor tends to bring you closer to the cohort, I think. But she was something special all the same. Hers was a smile that could light up a room, one that never faded, and always seemed authentic. Even in sorrow or stress, she was positive and proud. Her cheerful, unapologetic arrival at prom, solo and shimmering and hours late after her hair took too long to come together, lives as a high point in my year. Watching her walk across the stage three years ago as a graduate made my heart jump.

And today, struggling to define that inimitable something, I know that more than almost any student I have ever had, a shining star among thousands, Aida knew herself joyfully, like a natural-born Buddha, having discovered earlier than most that hers was truly a self worth knowing, and worth waiting for.

I last saw Aida in person purely by accident, a year ago this week; she was working as a cashier at Target to pay for school; we were there to buy school supplies for my classroom, and for the kids. Afterwards, as before, social media provided an opportunity to watch her from a distance, as the precocious, beautiful child I had first encountered continued to grow, into an increasingly articulate and determined career-minded adult, spouse, and very recently, just this summer, a mother, loved by and loving to so many of us.

But in the end, Aida’s health was her undoing. A car crash with her infant son a few weeks ago left her shaken and in pain, and stirred up old injuries. For a while, she was recovering, alive and proud of her struggle, as always. And then, this morning, we awoke to the news that after a seizure, Aida had passed in the night.

There’s a video on Aida’s husband’s Facebook page from just three days ago, a short clip featuring her beautiful son, wailing for mama while her father coos reassuringly behind the camera. Aida was alive when this was filmed, just working – on the last course for her degree, on her health, and on her ever-changing beauty, a rare trifecta among our inner city youth. Forever, that clip, and every other artifact of Aida’s life that lives on in so many of us, will break my heart.

I owe Aida so much, and I think I never told her. She was the right kid, in the right place, at the right time: the one who reminded me, way back when I needed it most, that teaching has both love and friendship in it, even – maybe especially – in the darkest of communities, and the most sullen of crowds. She will forever exemplify the positive attitude, kindness, and grit I wish of every student I teach. I will treasure the memory of that smile forever, even if it were not all I have to remember her by – that, the company of her friends and schoolmates, and the space on the bookshelf where my Poet’s Dictionary used to live.

May there always be those among us us who bring us joy, however brief, and remind us that we are in the right place in the world. May those we serve go from this life as they found us in it: alive and kicking, determined and bright, at peace with the world even as they push themselves for more.

May we love, fiercely, those who bring out our best.

And may there always be Aidas, that we may remember ourselves.

Category: Mixtapes 9 comments »

9 Responses to “Passages: For Aida, And A Thousand Stars”

  1. Chris

    I’m sorry to hear about the loss of Aida. 🙁

    I went looking for covers of “Ada” by the National, but instead found this very early video/version of the song, and it was very haunting:

  2. Marianne

    Thank you. An old friend sent us a link to your memories of Aida. Your beautiful description of her resonated with the way that we first met her. My wife and I took her in when she was 16 when our nephew, who was also with us, found out that she was having major trouble at home and needed a safe place to be. She was everything you described – beautiful, bright, articulate, and loving. She was also severely emotionally wounded and we had to help her get the mental health treatment that she needed. It was the first time we lost Aida. Then, about 18 months ago, I by chance ran into Aida and met her soon to be husband. I was so happy that it seemed like she found the happiness that she needed and deserved. We’ve reconnected over FB and chatted now and then during her pregnancy and of course the birth of Justin. A beautiful life cut short. Our lives are better because of her and the short time when she brought love and beauty into our lives.

  3. Brandon

    Thank you for such a beautiful post. I’ve been visiting your blog for years. I love this site.

  4. Mary

    So sorry to hear of the tragic loss of this remarkable young woman. Beautifully expressed – thanks for sharing. I know that I, too, would be devastated if any of my former students I knew especially well died young.

  5. Francesca

    My little sister is loved and will never be forgotten. She was all those things; beautiful, smart, positive, and so much more! Her smile was contagious! I felt guilty feeling like she was taken from me before we were able to experience all we planned together. I felt like she was too young and was just beginning her life! In those moments I search for peace and light and count our blessings. She was in such a positive space before her passing, and for that I am grateful. We were aries, born warriors, as we would say. God has another battle planned for her and she will be victorious as she was here. These are the beliefs that are helping me get through today. I can’t wait to hold Julian. He will know her love and memory through us. I love Aida, and as I lose my sister there is apart of me that feels lost. Seeing Julian; gives me a piece of Aida and I can’t wait to watch him grow into an amazing man. I love you, Aida ❤️

  6. Hailey

    She was very bright and this shows it in such a beautiful way. She impacted so many people. This was a great passage for her. She would have loved to see that so many people were touched by her.

  7. Jahaira

    I love Aida so much. Not because she is the mother to my nephew. Or my brother’s wife. She was a bright light that couldn’t be turned off. She was taken from us way too soon. Even just writing this hurts my heart, my soul. I am glad I have happy memories along with some not so happy memories. I will take them whether good or bad. When she called me and said to me she wanted & needed me there. I hesitated at first because its so far away and I had my job. When I arrived to her, I could feel a since of relief. She asked so many questions about life and parenting and if I thought there were different ways of doing things with Julian. I told her everyone has their own way. I found my groove but I also have 4 kids. It is with great sadness in my heart I travel back home, not to ask Aida any questions or joke with her or just talk. But to mourn her. To see if I can help my brother and my nephew in whatever they may need. He is so young. I will never let her be forgotten. You will be missed by many. Loved by more. You used to say to me. You’re brother is our (her n the baby) protector. And now I pray you protect them. I love you Aida. Rest my love ❤

  8. Gary

    A beautiful, very touching tribute for a beautiful soul. It brought tears. I’m reading it at 11 at night, with the sound of waves crashing by the shore just a 100 meters away. I live in Australia. God Bless you and all of Aida’s loved ones. RIP.

  9. Veronica

    My beautiful girl you are still a shining star. I’m blessed to be your sister and having seen the smiles you created for your nephew. I love you and miss you now and always. This is a gorgeous depiction of just how exceptional of a human being you were

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