So yesterday I sat down, all prepared to write a post taking on this article that claims adults should feel “embarrassed” to read books “written for children.” (Cue massive, unashamed eye roll.)
Then, because I’m an epic procrastinator, I popped on over to Facebook. Figured I’d hang there a minute, check out my friends’ latest antics/kid pix/inspirational cat videos. Maybe post something witty about said procrastination.
Instead, I was shocked to find people saying heartfelt goodbyes to one of my lifelong friends, Kent Batchelder — a guy I’d known since second grade, who sat next to me in classrooms all through elementary, middle, high school and college. The guy who nick-named me “Jan-baby,” and spent half of eighth grade enthusiastically chanting that from the chair to my right — much to my embarrassment — over. And over. And over again. When we got into high school, he then became the guy I could count on to call and ask me to every formal dance, even though I never said yes. (After all, he was my friend. My Kent. I didn’t want to wreck that by throwing dancing into the mix.) Still, he never stopped asking. And we never stopped being friends, despite my stubborn refusal to dance with him.
As I scrolled through my news feed with a growing feeling of dread, I began to hope maybe Kent had just moved. Or was taking a new job. He was definitely too young to die. But as more pictures appeared in his “memory” and word began to spread among mutual friends and old classmates, it was clear the worst had happened. Kent — one of the cleanest living, healthiest people I know — had been struck down in his prime by a very fatal and fast-moving cancer.
Suddenly, arguing with a so-called “grown-up” about what other grown-ups should feel “shame” about reading seemed silly. After all, the greatness of literature is not defined by the age of its characters or target audience. That’s just insulting — not only to the adults who enjoy and appreciate children’s literature, but to the people who write it, and even more so to the kids and young adults who read it themselves. I mean really… who is to say that your experience at forty-five is more important/meaningful/literary than a fifteen-year-old’s? Sadly, as I was reminded yesterday, you may not even live to see forty-five. The greatness in life is not how many days you spend living, but how you spend your days.
So today, I’d like to pay tribute to my friend Kent, a man who didn’t dismiss young people, but fostered their growth in his career as a middle school counselor. You may not have known Kent, but I bet (or hope) you’ve had a Kent in your life. As a kid, he was the guy who got along with everyone. As an adult, he was the cool grown-up kids could relate to — the young, active guy with an empathetic ear, constant smile and solid advice. Looking at his Facebook page, it’s clear how many lives he touched — whether he was mentoring students or leading one of his many international studies trips to places like France, Japan and Australia. Kent was a man who completely and fully embraced life and encouraged his students to do the same. The world won’t be the same without him.
Like most old school pals, Kent and I moved in different directions after college (he landed in Massachusetts, I wound up in Virginia). But we always kept in touch. When my first book was published, Kent promptly ordered it from the UK (and, of course, donated it to his school library). I last got to see Kent a year ago at our high school reunion. Thankfully, he didn’t chant “Jan-baby” at me. We did, however, have a great time chatting and catching up. Because that’s the amazing thing about friends who have known you since your banana-seat bike riding, braces-wearing days — once you get back together, the years just melt away.
I only wish he’d asked me to dance. Because Kent, I still owe you one.
Rest in peace, dear friend. I will miss you.