When Ruthie told me that Little Miguel had died from the flu, we searched for him in old pictures, threw stories about him back and forth, and shook our heads at how unreal his passing felt.
He's there in our photos, from 2010 to somewhere midway through 2014. He's rarely in the middle of the frame. He stands beside or behind those of us who are posing for the camera. He's absorbed in whatever he's doing, stacking dominos, gardening, working on assignments, listening to a story.
He often has an object in front of his face or a glare on his glasses.
An older student, Miguel Martinez was our program director when those pictures were taken. We called him "Big Miguel" when they were both in the room. Big Miguel and Ruthie and I would talk about Little Miguel as a potential leader.
We hoped to make his gentle manner, his good sense, his focus, and his generosity a leading part of our work with the next generation of students.
During his sixth grade year, he stopped attending. After that, I saw him around the neighborhood from time to time. One afternoon I was walking from my mailbox to my apartment when I saw him across the parking lot and went to talk with him. He told me about some new life circumstances that kept him from coming to our program.
I said something like, "I understand, but keep in touch," and we went back to our homes.
Sometime after that, he moved out of our complex. Students often leave and rejoin our work over the years, or they move out of the neighborhood then move back in, so we didn't worry or grieve.
We never thought our community would lose Little Miguel to the flu halfway through his tenth grade year. It seems so deeply and cruelly weird.
Our current tutoring directors attended school with him, and they are reeling from the loss. Each of them is processing his death, and we'll join them at a memorial service later this week.
Little Miguel never asked for much attention, but he deserved it. No matter where he stands in the pictures or how quietly he enjoyed his time in our company, we see him now.
One of our partner organizations, Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, is collecting donations to assist the family with funeral expenses. You can contribute via their donations page (designate it for "Miguel") or contact them to learn about other ways you can help.