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Call Me, Tweet Me: The little girl whose smile brought us together

Published: January 18, 2013
Section: Opinions


It’s been a year and I still think about her everyday.

I arrived to my semester abroad in London on January 14, 2012. Three days later, I had met some people, seen some sites and had some fun. I was enjoying the semester, but I hadn’t really become anything more than friendly acquaintances with my flatmates and I didn’t quite feel comfortable in the city.

On Wednesday, Jan. 18, I was struggling to stay awake during an orientation lecture and rejoicing because the theater we were in had WiFi. I connected and had a Facebook message from my best friend from camp and an iMessage from my little sister, both asking me to get in touch with them as soon as possible.

I panicked—both messages had been sent the night before, and it was now 4 a.m. back home. I knew they wouldn’t be responding for several hours.

I scrolled through my Facebook notifications, looking for any clue, while analyzing every letter of the messages. I told myself that neither seemed that urgent. They both just missed me, everything was okay, there was nothing to worry about. Everything would be fine.

Then I saw a news feed story that had just appeared (or, more likely, that I had overlooked in my panic). Several of my friends from camp had joined a group: “RIP Maggie Harry, Your Memory Lives On.”

It wasn’t fine. Not at all.

Maggie was a camper in the summer of 2009, my first year as a counselor. Although she wasn’t in my cabin, I was a counselor in her unit and we saw each other and spoke every day for four weeks that summer. I had known her older sisters for years.

I won’t pretend that Maggie and I were close. We interacted peripherally that summer, and since then, I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in three and a half years. She had a profound impact on my experiences that summer, however, as all of my campers have in their own way each year.

I didn’t know her that well, but I knew her well enough to recognize the way she absolutely shone and lit up a room. She was friendly and charismatic, the kind of person who seemed to have no limit on the love she had to give. She was outgoing, creative and she loved to act. She was slightly snarky, with just a hint of attitude.

People often describe others as being beautiful inside and out, and with Maggie’s mermaid hair and wide open-mouth smile, never has the phrase been so applicable.

Another camper, Jennie, described Maggie and her death perfectly: “It’s almost been a year, but RIP Maggie Olivia Harry. It’s too bad the person who embodied the most love of anyone I’ve ever encountered was consumed by her sadness.”

In London, I was surrounded by people I had just met, consumed by my own sadness. I turned instead to my sister, who had known Maggie from youth group, and my best friend from camp, Rachael, who had been Maggie’s counselor. The immediate outpouring of love, affection and sympathy from the entire camp community, many of whom had never even met Maggie, comforted us all.

The Facebook page dedicated to her and an online obituary guestbook were full of sentiments from former campers, staff and camp parents, expressing and acknowledging that Maggie’s life, and ultimately her death, affected all of us, even those of us who had never known her.

Rabbi Mark Covitz, our camp director, immediately updated the camp website with a page honoring her, writing, “All who shared time with Maggie here at camp are now joined together through the bonds of communal grief. Jews do not mourn as individuals. What touches one person touches the entire community. We mourn together; and in doing so, we share our strength.”

I was of course unable to go to her funeral, but Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation was full to overflowing with people who had known her and people who hadn’t. There is no better judge of a community than the way its members treat each other in times of extreme pain, and watching the aftermath of Maggie’s death reminded me exactly what being part of a community means, and how anyone can benefit from it and rely on it.

I can’t bring myself to say that everything happens for a reason, because I can’t fathom any reason why this had to happen. With that said, Maggie, I hope you have seen the beauty of the connections that have grown between the people who knew you and continue to love you. You have touched each and every one of us, and we are so blessed to have you and each other to take care of us. I love you.

It’s been a year, and we still think about you every day.