A year ago today I was a few weeks into my stint as a student teacher. It was a Friday and I was looking forward to a three day weekend to just unwind and relax. As usual I was on my phone checking Facebook at lunch and saw Jeffrey Kotula post something similar to “RIP Jamie” (his younger brother).
My initial instinct was that Jeff beat Jamie in a video game or something insignificant like that and it was just brothers being brothers. Then I scrolled further down and saw more details. Jamie had passed away in a tragic car accident back in Pennsylvania.
There was still some time left until my last class of the day started so I walked to the staff bathroom and openly sobbed. I leaned against the wall and just went limp. I hadn’t seen Jamie in years and he was 16, so when I was lucky enough to know him it wasn’t as the young man he grew to be.
John and Jeff were like my brothers growing up, and even though we talked few and far between, I always considered them family. I was devastated and could barely get through class. I rushed to my mother’s, where I was living at the time, and she instantly asked me what was wrong.
We were shocked. I barely had any money, but I texted Jeff and told him I was coming back to Scranton for the funeral, which was to take place that weekend – Martin Luther King weekend.
I’m not writing this to show how good of a person I am; on the contrary. When I was back in Scranton I saw how much the world will miss a truly great man. The wake had to be held at our cathedral instead of a funeral parlor. Lines longer than I can even describe formed as people waited to say goodbye to Jamie. He was treated like a king. And deservedly so.
From what I gathered he lived his life to the fullest every day; however, he honestly did unlike how so many of us say we do. Jamie did everything he could have possibly done to make himself happy. But about all else he did everything that was humanly possible to make everyone around him happy.
Like I said, I hadn’t seen or talked to the family in years, but by the end of the weekend it was like I never left. We were brothers again, and though we haven’t talked that often in the past year, I know we always will be.
Jamie’s untimely death changed me forever and I want to pay tribute to him and this is the only way I can think: in words.
He showed me that I wasn’t living life to the fullest; that I was settling and that I needed to chase my wildest dreams. I took so many things for granted and never once put anybody I loved ahead of my needs. I used to say that I did, but I knew I believed in an egocentric way of life.
In the past year I can’t say I did as much good in the world as Jamie would have done, but I started to pursue things I never thought I was. I’m writing this in a magazine office in Atlanta instead of as a teacher in a school in Arizona. Sure, I’m not getting paid, but the experiences that I’ve lived since August have been some of the greatest in my lifetime. I know that I wouldn’t have chased this dream if it weren’t for that earth shattering trip back to Pennsylvania.
I can guarantee that I didn’t express myself as clearly as I wanted to, but I tried. It’s hard to put this into words, but I knew I had to try because if I learned one thing it’s that trying is everything. And up until this point last year I never tried for anything.
To Jamie’s family: I know it has been the toughest year possible, but Jamie’s presence still lives on. I know without a doubt that he has affected more people than me and his life will live on in all of us. My love and prayers will always be with you.
To Jamie: the world misses you dearly, but you will never be forgotten.
In Memory of Jamie Kotula
January 26, 1994 – January 14, 2011
Below is “Timshel” by Mumford & Sons. John and Jeff performed it for Jamie during the funeral: