People filter in and out of your life over time, but there are some who make an impact so big, they really never leave. Almost seven years ago, I met such a person.
As a freshman at Ohio University, I was excited about a whole host of opportunities that lay before me. But, I also found myself totally overwhelmed by college as a whole. Even though Athens Ohio is by no means a bustling metropolis, it was significantly larger than the one stoplight farm community where I grew up, and I didn’t know anyone else on campus.
Reverting back to my gold star-seeking, over achieving ways, I went to an activities fair and put my name on the list for about 25 different campus groups. The group that took hold of me the most was the Ohio University Forensics Team. Forensics is competitive public speaking, and I can’t think of an activity that I would have possibly found more exciting. It was an event that required little to no athletic ability or coordination, and you got to talk, totally uninterrupted, for 10 whole minutes at a time, and you got to compete for who could do it best. The events included a mix of acting, which I’d dabbled in and loved my whole life, with writing and public speaking. I also loved it because they gave you big trophies for winning, you got to travel every weekend, and the school paid for you to eat out when you traveled! I understand my gushing over college forensics make me sound like a gigantic nerd, and I’m totally fine with that.
Through forensics, I met Chris Glaser, who became one of my closest friends. When I accidentally left my bag, including all my clothes, my cell phone, and all my homework, in West Virginia after a tournament, and didn’t realize it until we were back in Ohio at 3am, no one else was able to help. Chris picked me up the next day, and drove me to West Virginia to get my stuff back. I don’t remember how long the trip was, but I very clearly remember that it was not short, and that Chris barely knew me. On that trip, I got to know someone who was incredibly smart, hilarious, and genuinely kind, and a friendship was created. Chris was like the big brother I never had, and he both looked out for me and mercilessly picked on me from that moment onward.
The guy could talk your ear off about current events and threw around phrases like “cultural hegemony ” like it was his job, but he was also incredibly silly sometimes. Case in point : he was always the one ruining your pictures making a ridiculous face. He did it so often, that those around him took to calling that signature move the “Chris Glaser” face, and I’ve found so many photos of whole groups of people with their eyes wide and crazy, their mouths gaping in their attempts to mimic that face. I’m in many of those photos. Or, there’s the utter delight he took in doing a speech intro about the lack of foresight for the public transit system named the “South Lake Union Trolley.” He would always get a mischievous glimmer in his eyes when he explained, to an audience of competitors, coaches, and communication scholars all dressed in suits, that the residents who took the South Lake Union Trolley would describe their commute as “riding the S.L.U.T.”
Chris was also a gifted and dynamic speaker, and his heart and drive were even bigger than his talent. He was always willing to help others get better, even working as an assistant coach for his high school’s speech team while he was still in college, and after graduation. He’s a big part of the reason I ended up where I am today. When I realized I wanted to move from the school’s journalism program to its photography program, and that I’d have to go through a round of rigorous and competitive interviews to get in, I was scared and doubted my abilities. Chris didn’t stand for that. He took it upon himself to spend several days in my and my roommate Marie’s dorm room, coaching me on interviewing techniques, and making me go through mock interviews with him, while, I’m sure, giving me a good-natured ribbing in the process. Thanks to his push, I rocked that interview, got into the program, and studied what I love for four years. He pushed me to be confident in my abilities and to take risks. With another kick in the pants from him, I applied for a competitive internship in New York, which gave me skills and contacts that lead me to get a job in New York right after graduation, which is why I live in New York today. His favorite pieces of advice were “Go big, or go home,” and “The only way to get better is to suck less.” While that might seem like a harsh way to put it, it’s absolutely true.
Four years ago today, Chris lost his battle with an extremely rare form of heart cancer. He’d been diagnosed in the winter in 2006, and the prognosis was very bad. The specialists predicted he had six months. Chris fought, and he fought hard, to prove them wrong, blowing past their six month prediction for three years. In that time, he did an internship in Chicago, where he flew home monthly to go through chemo treatments, only to fly right back to work. He came back to Ohio University after that summer, and, despite a relapse in the cancer and the need for continued dialysis treatments, he not only made it to graduation, he excelled on his path there! He scripted a “debate” for the two of us to do on live television when Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” wanted the OU speech team to be a part of their broadcast , and he did it in less than 12 hours notice. He was a force to be reckoned with in the world of forensics, winning scores of awards in various categories, and he was a national semi-finalist in impromptu speaking in 2008. He didn’t just tell others to “Go big, or go home,” it was a mantra he lived.
Four years seems like a long time when you add up how much has happened in that time. I’ve weathered big changes in relationships, exhausting moves (one year, I moved 6 times in 12 months), job loss, and the anxiety of unemployment. I’ve also experienced great joys, like putting down roots in a city I’d dreamed about for years, creating a company where I can be creatively fulfilled, and meeting and marrying my husband. But loss is a funny thing. No matter how much time passes, when you say goodbye to someone too soon, you don’t forget them.
Soon after Chris’ passing, I read a piece by another forensics member, Megan Gorey, who had been similarly touched by Chris’ brand of compassion, humor, and pants kicking, and had been just as shocked as I was to hear the news. Despite being deep in grief, she had to do an interview that day. Her subject could tell she was in pain, offering this metaphor, which seems particularly fitting, “We are all sparks coming from one light source. And sometimes – our sparks collide, if even for just one moment.”
Although his time was limited, Chris’ spark touched so many people. I know that my life would be different if I’d never met him, and I know there are many others who can say the same. I don’t think I could ever put into words what his friendship meant to me, so I guess I’ll just have to put it into actions. Every time I debate between the easiest path, and the scary but ultimately more rewarding one, I try to remember his words, his life, and chose to GO BIG, and to do it with a wise crack or two along the way.
If you knew Chris, feel free to share favorite memories, or links to pictures and videos, in the comments section below.