What makes a community stop and question who they are? What does it take for a group of students, of teachers — of leaders, nurses, entrepreneurs, writers, actors, engineers and hopeful ministers of service to this world — to slow to a halt in solemn contemplation and ask, “What now?” It seems it takes a loss. A loss as unimaginable as it is painful; as impossible as it is despondent. The kind of loss that shakes us awake, knocks us on our knees, and causes us to double over in mourning and lament. We can’t imagine a loss like this because we couldn’t — we don’t — believe it should happen here. The unique pain of this kind of loss — despite its unanswerable questions and suffocating grief — precipitates an inspiring response of unity. In the midst of heartbreak, in the midst of what can feel like a paralyzing helplessness, we find ourselves drawn to that one refuge which answers the question of “What now?”: each other.
The Klinger family, the University of Portland community, the city of Portland, and this world has suffered that unimaginable, impossible loss. Owen Klinger — a son, brother, friend, leader and newest among us to bear the Pilot name — was taken from this world, from our community, from home. Caged by questions but compelled by resolute hope, our campus, city, even country searched vigilantly. We did not accept, nor would we pretend, that missing one of our own was okay. It was not. It is not. This was the moment we dared to answer for ourselves and for the world that deepest of questions: “Who are we?” We answered proudly, hopefully and in no uncertain terms that we are steadfast custodians of faith. We are a resilient, unfettered union of assorted backgrounds and innumerable aspirations, and we channeled that collective resolve — that unity of purpose — to gather in hopeful prayer. Once in vigil, again in memorial, we congregated to remind ourselves that the hopeful light found in the community is unwavering, even when the season feels dark. We are Pilots and members of the University of Portland community, and we share the ache, the sting from the wound of missing one of our own. Now, in learning of Owen’s death, we remain bound together.
The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels in these recent days, yet we know that Owen shares that same beacon of enduring light there that he did in his short time at UP. The solemn weight of heartbreaking loss is felt by every single one of us. For the Klinger family, this weight is unimaginably immense. For our neighboring city, it is shattering; for our campus, it is searing. Those who knew him, lived with him or never met him feel it. I feel it. We feel it. At a time when grief feels crippling, we are instinctively drawn to be with one another. To care for one another. Perhaps at this time in which words fail and nothing — nearly nothing — can bring us the peace we desperately seek, we must garner the love, kindness, and hope that is our brand and give what we can afford to each other. We have to. We have to remind ourselves and one another that this is not the kind of hardship we are meant to endure alone. This loss, this university, this life is not meant to be experienced in isolation. Every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and to each other, reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. There will come a day — I know there will — when the thought of Owen brings a smile to our lips before it brings a tear to our eyes. We’re charged with honoring Owen and his memory by holding each other up — sharing all the love, peace and hope we can as we renew our resilient spirit.
When we carry on in this small acre of home on The Bluff — as we pass one another, share classes, exchange greetings — let us honor Owen Klinger’s life by cherishing each heartfelt moment and slow down to share a slice of authenticity. Ask a few more intentional “How are you’s?” before finals. Chip away at the routines and habits that can ossify us and blur out those deepest moments of love and grace. Remember, always, that you are loved; you and every friend bring an infinitely valuable contribution to our community. Do these things in the lasting memory of Owen Klinger, so that the painful grief we bear as a community doesn’t falter our faith, but evolves, blossoms into celebration — so that we are reminded, all too heartbreakingly, to never stop loving.
Nick Owen is the president of the Associated Students of the University of Portland. He can be reached at email@example.com.