Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Heartbeat

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Courtesy of Mary Reines

Courtesy of Mary Reines

Sam Butterfield fell out of a window a couple weeks before graduating from Hampshire College. He died exactly a year and a day later on May 4, 2013. He was 23 years old. I was studying abroad in Europe when I heard about Sam, and I was not able to discover what caused his death.

Even though Sam hadn’t attended the University of Massachusetts and was already out of college, I was upset that no one wrote an obituary for him at the Daily Collegian, where he had spent much of his time as a college student.

Sam Butterfield grew up in Hingham, Mass. He was a pitcher on his high school’s baseball team, the Hingham Harbormen, and an editor at his school’s newspaper, The Harborlight. Sam attended the University of Missouri School of Journalism where he worked at The Maneater, the school’s bi-weekly student newspaper. After a semester, he transferred to Hampshire College where he worked at The Climax, Hampshire’s weekly online publication.

He also started working at the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, where the bylaws were changed so that he, a Hampshire student, could acquire a staff position. He worked his way up from news reporter to general editor, a position created especially for him.

Sam also wrote articles for the Hingham Journal, the Springfield Republican and the Los Angeles Times. But I like his blog the best. It’s called The Sam Butterfield Report. It’s what I read when I was in Paris, scouring the Internet for news about his passing.

My favorite blog post is called CRUNCH! It’s about the day that he got into a car accident a few hours after his dog died. He wrote about how silly it is that we only focus on our personal agendas, when in reality we could be severely affected by a total stranger.

He wrote, “So don’t go saying your life is yours and you’re just living and whatever else is going on is irrelevant, somehow we’re all tossed into one big crazed framework with each other, and when the pinballs collide, we for some reason have to fill out a bunch of checklists and shade a bunch of boxes, a nice standardized test.”

And that’s how Sam’s death made me feel. Here I was frantically searching to find information about a boy I barely knew. A stranger had turned my life upside down. A few weeks later an obituary came out revealing that the window accident had left him paralyzed in a wheelchair until his death. My heart broke.

All I could think to myself was, “Why Sam? Why this young brilliant journalist who was talented beyond his years? His life was just beginning.” When I got back to UMass in the fall of 2013, I volunteered to write the student obituaries.

I wrote about the deaths of four students who each haunt me in different ways. When I look at my younger sister I see Evan Jones, a goofy sophomore who loved fitness and country music, just like her. When I listen to Griz’s remix of Childish Gambino’s “Heartbeat” I think of Eric Sinacori, a senior who was obsessed with glitch-hop and Griz. He would have been a great music promoter.

I often think of Meghan Beebe – a senior who lived to comfort those around her – when I find myself alone at my apartment with thoughts of post-grad isolation swirling around my head. “Oh Meghan, if only I could talk to you now,” I think to myself.

Once I had a strange sensation as I walked through campus. I suddenly remembered how Slav Yanyuk’s heart stopped beating as he sat in his car outside his house, about to drive back to school, ready for a long night of studying ahead. I feel my own heart beating and can’t believe how relieved I am. Thump-thump, thump-thump. What a miracle.

I don’t welcome change. I’m not excited to leave UMass and enter a future of uncertainties. “What do I want to do with my life? Who am I going to become?” I wonder.

Then I think about those students who passed and instantly become grateful. I realize I’ve been taking this whole future thing for granted. My life after college isn’t as hopeless as I think. I put my hand on my heart – thump-thump, thump-thump – and remember that that’s all I really need. I have a future. I can feel it.

 Mary Reines can be reached at [email protected]

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