Unblossomed Lives

Imagination is a double-edged sword. One can imagine a world in which peace and justice prevail and, in so imagining, experience a sense of hopefulness and excitement. Conversely, one can imagine—and not without difficulty, given current events—the horrors of war and what might have been for its myriad casualties and, in so imagining, experience a sense of loss and despair. The unfulfilled promise of those who have given their lives in the service of their country is one of the more tragic casualties of war. It is akin to taking a scythe to the stem of a rose about to blossom. What beauty might have been one will never know and can only imagine. It is a waste.

In today’s New York Times, Samuel G. Freedman writes of one young man whose life was cut short in Iraq. His name was Geovani Padilla, and he never saw 21…

A Young Work in Progress Shattered on a Road in Iraq
As the seniors of South Gate High marched across the stage on commencement night in June 2003, a column of gravity and obedience in alphabetical order, Geovani Padilla took off his mortarboard and crimson stole. Then he wrapped the strip of fabric around his forehead in samurai style. After receiving his diploma, he dropped to his knees, thrust his fists in the air and bathed in a moment of cheering recognition.

With more than 5,000 students on its rolls and nearly 50 in many classes, South Gate High was a hard place to stand out as an individual. Geovani hovered in the middle ranges, neither the academic star bound for Stanford or Berkeley nor the incipient gangster on a trajectory toward prison. Nothing had mattered more to him than answering to his own muse.

In the audience that evening sat the few people who truly understood Geovani — his friends Paul Canales and Nairoby Alvarez; his teachers Santiago Rodriguez and Michael Kinne. They had always savored the way Geovani wore a black leather trench coat to school even in the blowtorch Santa Ana winds, and how he turned a dog’s leash into a looping watch chain worthy of a zoot-suited sharpie. They knew of his passion for the books of Albert Camus, Herman Hesse and Ken Kesey, a passion belied by his indifference to grades and homework.

Now, nearly three years later, the formal version of Geovani’s graduation portrait, mortarboard atop head and stole draped over shoulders, hangs in the central office of South Gate High. He came by this distinction in the grimmest way, killed last month by a roadside bomb while serving as a Navy hospitalman in Iraq. He was 20 years old and, the last his friends had heard, reading “The Divine Comedy.”

IT is a terrible and obvious truth of war that the young fight and die — the average age of the American fatalities in Iraq is 26½ — and so these losses echo in a particular way through the high schools the victims so recently left. In grief and commemoration, their survivors often reach for a certain vocabulary, phrases like “honor roll,” “dean’s list” and “role model,” as if the demise of a B-minus student should somehow harrow everyone less.

Geovani Padilla, though, lived and died as a reminder that being in high school means yearning and searching, trying to assemble a self. Geovani was a work in progress, one that can never be completed. All the sundered strands of possibility are what his friends and mentors from South Gate mourn. more…

2,428 souls lost and counting…