Memories of Amir

Dear Mrs. Lopatin,

I have been trying to write this letter, and in the end, I just don’t know what to say. There really are no words that can express the loss we all feel at Amir’s passing. Amir was becoming a close friend of mine, and I actively feel his loss around campus, in my life, and in my future. Again, I don’t know what I might possibly say – there is no rhyme or reason. All I can do is offer you a few glimpses of Amir through my eyes, and hopefully convey to you how much he was loved and respected by those of us here at Stanford.

The last time I saw Amir was in early March, before I left for a three and a half week vacation. We had tentative plans to get together for a walk or for lunch this week to catch up after not seeing each other in almost a month – plans to which I was truly looking forward. I found out late on Sunday night that we would not be able to have lunch or take a walk – not this week. Not ever. And I cannot remember the last time I cried so hard.

But I digress, because I do want to share with you the last time I saw Amir, and maybe a few other stories besides that one. I was sitting at my desk, in my office, working hard on a paper that was due for presentation the next day. In rushed Amir, looking a bit flustered, and very excited. “Do you have a lamp?” he demanded. I looked up, stumped. “A lamp?” I asked, “Um. No. Amir, why do you need a lamp?” I glanced down at my watch and continued “and aren’t you supposed to be in class right now?” He looked at me with those sparking blue-green eyes and his disarming smile, and explained to me that he had this absolutely fantastic idea for an experiment, and he wanted to catch his classmates on their way out of class, and he needed a lamp for the experiment. “Ah. I see. Nope – no lamp over here. Sorry.” I laughed at his exasperated look and his rushed demeanor as he raced out of my office, in pursuit of a lamp with which to run his experiment. I giggled to myself and reflected on how amazing it is to find someone with such a passion for his studies and so much enthusiasm for his work. It made me pause to consider how drudgingly I had been pursuing my own studies, and I made a mental note to “be more like Amir,” and remember how interesting my own work was, and how fortunate I am to be a learner.

This episode has been continuously crossing my mind ever since I heard of Amir’s passing, not just because it was the last time I saw him, but because of how much it speaks to his personality. Amir was one of the most curious, intelligent, excited and enthusiastic people I have ever had the fortune to meet. But even more, Amir was constantly looking for illumination. In the questions he asked, the rigor with which he analyzed a topic, the excitement in his eyes and the query in his words – Amir was always looking to learn and to teach – he was both a light for others and a receiver of light from others. As I continue to live each day, I aim to both provide and receive illumination as enthusiastically and inspiringly as did your son.

Another funny Amir vignette: We were out for a walk on a misty afternoon. We had considered canceling for rain, but he assured me that he looked just as good wet as he did dry, so he was not opposed to venturing out in the rain. We were immersed in conversation about some political theory or another, when suddenly and without warning he completely changed the topic on me. Perplexed, I asked him how on earth he had gotten from point A to point B. He informed me that he had been thinking about point B for 10-15 minutes already, while we had been debating point A. You see, Amir never just thought about one thing at a time, as he explained to me that afternoon. Instead, he had to store up the other conversation topics that came to mind. Sometimes, apparently, he forgot some of the ones he was storing, so if he thought of something particularly interesting, he would just change the subject, so as to make sure it got covered in a given conversation. After our 90 minute walk, he climbed onto his bike and off he rode. When he reached the stop sign he turned and looked at me over his shoulder, and I swear he was about to double back to start on some other topic, point Z perhaps, that he didn’t want to forget before next time. And today, I am left wondering what point Z was all about, and feeling saddened that I will never know.

Amir and I were in the same school at Stanford, although our specialties within the field of education were very different. We both shared a love of the outdoors and an interest in theories and philosophies beyond basic education. The first time we spent time together outside of school, we decided to meet at a coffee shop near campus, although he warned me that he was not sure that particular coffee shop was open past 9pm. I assured him in no uncertain terms that it was, and we made our plans. When I walked up to Harmony Café at 9pm on a Wednesday night in early February, he was leaning against an outside table, next to a very dark and very closed coffee shop. “Bad choice.” He called out to me, this person he barely knew. And with this honest assessment we moved on to the pub next door, and spent the next many hours debating theories of socialism, communism, the capital markets, technology and Judaism. I quickly saw that he had an astounding sense of humor, an incredible brilliance, and an extremely generous soul. We began one of the most fulfilling friendships of my time at Stanford, and one which I have been actively looking forward to pursuing over the next many years. I still cannot quite fully comprehend his absence, and I am only beginning to mourn the loss of such an amazing person in my life and the lives of all those around me. It seems that I cannot stop thinking about his mischievous smile, his glittering eyes, and his honest words.

I know that the memorial service at the Chabad Center was taped so you and your family might be able to see the wonderful things people said about Amir, but I wanted to highlight one thing that really stood out to me at that service. So many of the stories began with “Amir was riding by on his bike, and he stopped to say hi…” and I think that that one action, his stopping his bike to say hi to someone, really speaks to who Amir was. He was someone who took the time to stop and say hello, to ask how you were, to remember the details of your life and follow up on the little things that were important to you – he had a gift for listening and comforting and prodding and inciting.

Mrs. Lopatin, in the short two months in which I knew Amir, he changed my perspective on life and on friendship. Never before have I so deeply felt the loss of someone’s passing – not only will I miss your son, but I will miss out on your son, which is in itself a true tragedy. But Amir affected me tremendously in the short time we did spend together, and in the memories I and his other friends hold of him, in the ways that he influenced our lives, Amir’s spirit will live on, and continue to affect people in countless ways.

Thank you for providing us with such a wonderful friend and teacher – we will never forget the lessons he unwittingly taught us in his own quirky way.

With all my heart,

Katharine Strunk