Last week, I learned that a close former colleague of mine had died in a freak skiing accident. I was running errands and my former boss called and asked whether I could pull my car over. I’m relieved he did. I sat in my car on a quiet street in Mohican Hills attempting to be polite and consoling in the face of the news, and then he said: “Let me know if you need to talk. I’m holding a space for you,” and a sob involuntarily rose in my throat. I stumbled and sputtered my way through something about what a horrific loss it was, and then I hung up and wept.
I personally hired Nate when he was a few years out of college and he was my right-hand man during my tenure as CIO of a small non-profit focused on building the financial health of low-income teens. He was bright, inexperienced, and impossibly idealistic, as we all were. I remember sitting across from him at Lula Cafe in Logan Square, Chicago, at the final round of the interview process, needling him about how much he wanted the job. He was never without a smile, and that made him difficult to read. He pulled out a small notebook and gestured to a cluster of pages on which he’d kept notes about the position and his thoughts on its requirements. “Yes,” he nodded. “I want this job.” I could see it was true. I was moved by his evident care and seriousness in thinking about the role. Anyone who took the time to transfer thoughts to paper, to document some of his own ideas, with no assurance as to whether he would get the job, was going to be a perfect fit for our scrappy, moonshot organization. I offered him the position on the spot.
I have thought about that afternoon, and especially the elegant presence of those notes in his notebook, many times over the past week. We shared countless other hilarious and frustrating and wonderful memories together working to build a smartphone application designed to promote the saving habits of high school students, but I think mainly of that exchange, of the way I thought to myself: “This is a person I want to work closely with.” He was a joy in the office: upbeat, determined, curious, creative, funny. We approached problems differently, and I learned a lot about myself because of the delta between us. He was contemplative and thorough and I was intuition-driven and immediate. I would ply him with false claims of urgency, and, ever the good sport, he would comply. On the occasions he wouldn’t, I learned the most. “But why do we need it done this way?” he would ask, and I would nod my head as if divining a truth that hadn’t yet materialized, and then we’d figure out a different path forward together. It was exciting to work with him. I have managed many young staff members in my time but never someone who knew so well when and how to push back in a productive way — in a way that felt committed to the cause rather than retributive or gainful or oppositional for the sake of being oppositional. And that was Nate: mission-driven, inquisitive in all the right ways, a man for others.
I have returned to the specifics of my memories of Nate with urgency the past week, straining to remember even what his handwriting looked like, because I otherwise have been battling tremendous regret that I did not keep in better touch with him the last few years, and I am put off by my own selfishness in this regard. His death is not about me. His death is a loss, acute and caustic. He was bright and thought-filled and passionate and I know there are many friends and family members who are grieving profoundly at this very moment. I speculated elsewhere on the troubling concept that grief can have uses. I absolutely riot against that notion today.
Nate, you are remembered. I write your name to hold a space for you.