I heard about Kobe Bryant’s death while picking up a cake for my daughter. For people from Philadelphia who have followed his career, we always will remember where we were when we heard the news. Kobe’s death is felt most strongly in Los Angeles, where he lived and played all of his 20 seasons in the National Basketball Association. A close second, however, is here in Philly, where Kobe’s family was from and where he went to high school at Lower Merion High School.
Kobe was one of the most diverse people ever to enter the NBA. As a young child he lived in Italy while his father played professional basketball in Europe. When he came home to Philadelphia, he attended Lower Merion, a suburban school with a sizable Jewish population. As such, Kobe was one of the few NBA players who, as a 13-year-old, did the “Bar Mitzvah Circuit.”
Within hours after news flashed of Kobe’s death, Lower Merion graduates, nearby residents and other locals established a makeshift shrine at the school, whose gymnasium is called the “Bryant Gymnasium,” thanks to the money Kobe raised for it. By Monday, the shrine had grown so large school officials had to relocate it lest it block the entrances.
Lower Merion is one of our rival high schools, but all of us have numerous close connections. Our neighbor was Kobe’s freshman basketball coach at Lower Merion. Whenever Kobe would return to Philly he would visit them. By late Sunday afternoon, the family had placed poignant photographs of Kobe with their family on their Facebook page.
Local news was filled with stories of Kobe and people who knew him growing up. A spokesperson for the Lower Merion School District delivered a public tribute just hours after his death. That was more than his varsity basketball coach could do. Too broken up to speak, Coach Greg Downer only could issue a written statement. On Monday, the school held a 33-second moment of silence for Kobe, signifying the number he wore leading Lower Merion to the Pennsylvania State Basketball Championship in 1996.
As the Bryant story developed throughout Sunday, it got worse. Along with seven other people who must not go unremembered, Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna died with him on the doomed helicopter. Already showing signs herself of basketball brilliance, Gianna was one reason Kobe had become a vocal public advocate of women’s basketball, women’s soccer, and women’s sports in general.
During Sunday, we held conversations of how uneasy you feel sometimes as a parent when the other parent takes a child away for any reason, even just to go to the store. No matter how mundane, in the deepest recesses of your mind, you worry, will I ever see them again? What would I do if the worst happened? For Kobe’s wife Vanessa and her three other girls, that fear sadly becomes their existence.
Nobody got a chance to say goodbye to Kobe, Gianna, or any of the other seven lost in that helicopter crash. That fact alone implants within us the fragility of human life. The greatest plans mean nothing when faced with the ultimate reality, against which humans are powerless. It is at times like this that the sanctity of human life becomes most vivid, as well as the incomprehension of those who fail to appreciate it.
One of the fundamental precepts of the Jewish religion is the love of life. Almost every law in Judaism can be broken in order to save a life. The Bryant tragedy gives us another stark lesson in why.
Human life is fleeting. It is to be cherished. What type of a parent can look at his/her children and dream not about what accomplishments they might make in life, but about how they can achieve paradise in death? I’m sorry. I never can and never will accept utilizing children, or anyone for that matter, as fodder for political ends.
In 2017, Hamas said it would destroy Israel eventually because “we love death as much as the Jews love life.” You’re damn right we do. It’s the source of our greatest strength. Those who love life will fight hardest to preserve it, for themselves and for their children. Those who don’t condemn their children, and themselves, to an eternity cursed by their willful disregard of their children’s unfulfilled and unfulfillable promise. If there is a Heaven, those who purposely put their children in harm’s way won’t get there.
Hug your children a little closer tonight. Make sure to tell them you love them. Walk into their rooms when their asleep and stare at their faces. Put that memory into your hearts. Never forget that tomorrow may never come.