Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dearly Departed

This past Tuesday, October 12 the world lost a young giant.

Sujal Parikh, a 2010 Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholar died in a motorcyle accident in Uganda, where he was continuing research that he first laid the groundwork on in 2008.

His death was painful for a lot of people that, like myself, barely knew him.  We spent less than three weeks of our lives together.  Beside a moment of truth that we once shared, I also could tell that Suj was working on greatness.  While I struggled to bring enough copies of my CV to a marathon of different interviews, he had all of the interviewers' CVs ready at hand.  I once struggled to stop a session of congress for half an hour in protest of their support for the Iraq war, he helped shut down the city of San Francisco.  I was trying to figure out how to make a start in global health research, he was well on his way.  While several years younger, he wasn't hoping a site would let him do research, he was shopping for mentors with the most resources and common goals.

His death seems senseless, but like the murder of Stephen Pitcairn, such is our mortality.  My psychiatry professor, Dr. Wesley Dickerson, used to say in reference to others' attempts to pschoanalyze pscyhotic patients, "pathology owes us no deeper meaning."  Trying to find a reason in the madness of Suj's death feels the same way.

I wrote to a group of young researchers that I met with Suj right before I moved to Beijing, and after learning of Pitcairn's death.  Excerpted below, I wrote to these people I had gotten to know a little over  2 weeks:

Some of us became close; some of us shared fleeting moments of truth; I passed by others in silence like ships in the night.  Nevertheless, it was an honor to share that time and space with all of you.

On my way to Beijing I passed through my home town of Baltimore just long enough to hear about the murder of a 23 year old Hopkins researcher 1/2 block from the corner where I used to live when I was a 24 year old Spanish interpreter working at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  

In short, our future is not promised.  I am grateful for the opportunity to have met all of you and look forward to opportunities to collaborate in the future.  Next time we meet, don't be surprised if I remember your name.  I'm both sentimental and forgetful, ambitious and nostalgic.  Whether we have a chance to meet in Baltimore, Brooklyn, Beijing, Port-Au-Prince, Dhaka, Kampala or La Habana, look me up.
It was the last communication I ever had with Suj.  He never made it home from Kampala.

It is impossible to know what his impact would have been on this world, if only...

But like the Jewish belief I have been taught that the dead live on in our memories, Suj's impact on our lives, even those who passed by him like ships in the night, will continue to shape our world.  His energy, courage, imagination, and discipline redefine my expectations of myself and others, and not just in preparations for my next interview.


AaronEndre said...

Thank you for sharing. I was good friends with Steve Pitcairn and tragedies like these remind us to appreciate every day because life can be so uncertain and nothing is guaranteed -- not that we need a reminder.

This too shall pass.

JW said...

Sorry to hear about your colleague. I know it's cold comfort, but it sounds like he died doing what he loved, or at least following that dream actively.