Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Tribute to a Friend

Exactly two years ago Annalee Marshall was just another person in a classroom full of people I was unfamiliar with – but at first glance, it was so obvious that she had a story to tell. As chance, luck, or fate would have it, we edited each other’s writing, and I began to learn what that story was. We exchanged phone numbers, the occasional cup of coffee turned routine, and we quickly became close friends. 

 Annalee and I were both so moved by the Help Save The Next Girl campaign and the response it was to violence. We knew we wanted to be a part of it but we had no way of knowing the incredible journey the next 365 days would have in store for us. With the critical help of several other students and faculty members, we rallied together and founded the first collegiate chapter of HSTNG at Virginia Tech. Annalee immerged – not surprisingly – as a natural leader in the organization. She was creative, compassionate, driven – that girl was on fire.

I have a friend who describes people she would characterize as fireflies as someone who goes unnoticed in the glare of sunlight, but given the right circumstances, they give off a spectacular glow. They are not typically “flashy” people. Quite the opposite really. They don’t really try to shine – it’s just who they are. It’s a part of their being. The source of their light is often mysterious – or at least not obvious – but they are undeniably attractive to be around.

Annalee was a firefly.

I was inspired by, motivated by, and in awe of her passion constantly - she was a courageous crusader for change, a warrior for peace, and the brightest of lights in any room. We embraced the best of times together and we shared in some of the worst. She was never the fair-weather type and I will always be grateful for that.

We’ve stood hand in wax-covered hand memorializing the victims of Virginia Tech’s massacre by candlelight. Those same hands held mine at Take Back The Night last spring as VT Help Save The Next Girl emerged as one of the fastest growing anti-violence organizations on campus. Those same hands are immortalized in the PSA for the national Help Save The Next Girl campaign – a cause she tirelessly poured her heart and soul into. Those same hands never met a person they couldn’t reach and those same hands chalked, with bright colors and intricate design, the entire Copely Bridge in honor of another life lost too soon... She did everything she could to honor and perpetuate the legacy of others – it still seems unreal to be speaking in past tense while doing the same for her.

I could tell you stories for hours about Annalee – I have 730 days of them, but my stories aren’t any more important than yours. We are all here because we have a gaping Annalee-shaped hole in our hearts that we’re not quite sure what to do with. Perhaps that hole is the perfect treasure chest for our stories and for the memories we will share with one another in her absence.

I have spent a lot of time on the road recently, and I find that on the road, the writing comes to me. On my way back from Orlando, FL at an unexpected stop on the edge of the ocean, I found these words:

Today, I am grateful for the reminder that there is triumph in the face of tragedy, light in the darkness, and beauty in the breakdown. I am reminded that how we emerge from the waves is all in how we ride them. I am reminded that even the most devastating storms run out of rain – so perhaps the lesson is that it is up to each of us to find peace within the silver linings that shelter us while it passes. 

Perhaps the silver linings will be in the memories we share today, in the relationships we build tomorrow, or in the peace we find years from now knowing we’ve got one incredible guardian angel on our side. Perhaps the silver lining is in the four lives that are forever changed by the priceless gift she was able to give as she transitioned peacefully from this life into the next. Perhaps it’s in the love she shared with each of us – making us better individuals and empowering us to cultivate for one another a better world. Annalee lived the change she wished to see in the world – so perhaps the silver lining is that we now have the opportunity to do the same in her honor. Wherever that silver lining may be, I encourage each of us to embrace it – because I think we’ll find it’s her that embraces us back. 

Two years later, I am beyond grateful to not only know her story, but to have her ink on the pages of my own.

So it is with life – pages turn, bridges burn, and lessons are often learned the hard way. We never get the time we think we have so we must make the most of every moment as it happens – I learned that from Annalee.

I wish I could tell her one more time just how much she meant to me… How much I appreciated her compassion… How loved she is by all of us… Just how much her very presence changed my life.

But I can – because she’s right here in my heart – just as she is in yours

Annalee had hoped I would someday take her the the beautiful peaks of Gates Pass - and as chance would have it, I could.  With the help of friends and family, we took
the pieces of this particular journey gathered at the closest point to heaven the geography of Tucson, AZ could offer us. A stone from every state traveled through, bits and pieces of memory placeholders, and prayer flags from around the world pay tribute to a life that couldn't help but enrich our own...

Annalee, I know you’re always listening to great music, but take the headphones out and listen to me... My world was a better, brighter place because you were a part of it. I am only just beginning to process the magnitude of this earthly robbery, and in doing so I must believe that you were planted on earth to bloom in heaven. VT Help Save The Next Girl will miss you and so will I, but your roots in each of our lives are eternal and your legacy will prevail. You will always be an angel in the architecture of my world and I will carry you with me wherever I go. Up you go, my beautiful friend. Fly with the angels… Soar. 


  1. Such a Beautiful tribute. What a testiment to the never ending bounds of friendship. if only all the world could love another this way.