A Hole in the Earth

2011 - 07 - 15 a (43) crop Zach on rooftop lr

I knew Zach for less than five years. But the hole his absence has left will probably last a lifetime. Though I knew him briefly, I felt like I had always known him when I met him. He was a goal setter,  a list maker, and he spoke with great enthusiasm about all that he wanted to accomplish. He loved making music, he loved being outdoors, he loved adventure, he loved making a significant contribution to everything he was doing. He told me he wanted to explore the world because he loved making discoveries. He loved life – and the people in it – more than most people I know. Zach was so respectful toward me that I felt like I was someone important when I was in his presence. I imagine he was raised to treat everyone that way. He also spoke so respectfully of his parents that it was obvious that he loved them deeply – and he seemed to genuinely like doing things with them. He spoke so passionately about his extended family, and so often, that I felt like I knew them though I had never met them. Zach had a great sense of humor and I shared many deep belly laughs with him. His laughter was contagious. Conversation with him was contagious, too. He was knowledgeable about so many things because he devoured information. His knowledge and passion caused him to be a true liver of life. He lived harder than most people I know. Making a difference in the world seemed to be his ultimate goal. Zach was one of the good guys. My wishful thinking causes me to believe that good guys should always win.

Zach lost his battle with cancer in January of this year. He was studying abroad in New Zealand with the Carleton College geology department 2 ½ years ago when he became ill and had to be flown back home. He was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and started treatment at the Mayo Clinic. While fighting his battle, he still continued contributing his time to his various passion projects at Carleton and to the people around him.

I thought of Zach and prayed for him every day of his two-year fight. I have thought of him every day since he left this earth. I’m sure that many others think of him daily, too. Zach’s memorial services were the most beautiful I’ve ever attended. It wasn’t just because his family and friends who helped with his services are incredibly gifted musicians, writers, and speakers; it was because Zach was such a beautiful person. The outpouring of love for him at his memorials was a testament to the love that Zach freely gave.

I feel that Zach’s death left a significant hole in this world. Over the past six months, I’ve found myself frequently exploring what that hole means. When I dug around in that emotional space, I found no answers concerning why his life ended so soon when he had so much to offer. After diving deep into that hole so many times and coming up with nothing, I reached a point of accepting that the place Zach once held on this earth  can simply never be filled with answers. There just are no answers to be uncovered concerning why one of the good guys died too young. Instead of trying to fill the hole, I think it’s alright to just let it be what it is: a reminder of the impact Zach had on this world. It’s evidence that someone who lived and loved as large as Zach did once walked this earth. I’ve realized that it’s okay to frequently visit the site of the gaping hole because it shows me how lucky I was to know someone who was so filled with life and love.

The hole is also a prominent reminder of how I should try to be. I’ve been pretty unhappy with the course my life has taken, but at leas2011 - 07 - 15 c (60) crop Zach on swing lrt I have life – and the opportunity to take it in a new direction. I really shouldn’t waste that opportunity. Zach’s zest for a life cut short has inspired me to make the most of the time I have left on this earth. I want to be setting my own grand goals, making my own lengthy to-do lists, enthusiastically pursuing my own wild dreams, and sharing stories about my own family that I love so deeply. In doing so, maybe I can also make an impression on this world.

Today, as I visit the hole he left behind, I find myself in a place of gratitude. I thank God, and I thank Zach, that our paths crossed during our journeys on this earth. My encounter with Zach made a difference in my life. Zach made a difference in this world.

Zach would have been 23 years old today. I wish there was a cure for his cancer and that he could have had many more years to explore this earth.



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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Julie Ryan.


6 thoughts on “A Hole in the Earth

  1. Beautiful Julie! We miss him so much, your words mean a lot, I already shared on FB and would like to share with other friends if that is okay with you?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mike, of course you can share this! Thank you for producing a kid as amazing as Zach to share with the world. Words can’t begin to convey what an amazing job you did of raising him. I know that his life has profoundly affected so many others.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mike,
    What a beautiful tribute from Julie to Zach! I never met Zach, but can tell he made a very positive impression on many! Many prayers going out to you, Mary, and Zach’s family and friends.

    God Bless!

    Liked by 1 person

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