Life has a way of surprising us. While I do what I can let my friends and family know how much I care, what they mean to me, and what they’ve done for me, sometimes it’s easy to glean over the small stuff. Sometimes, we take it all for granted and assume we always have tomorrow to profess our feelings. Time and time again, I’ve learned how wrong that sense of confidence is. I learned it with my father. I have learned it with friends who were lost way too young. Once again, I was reminded of this mistake when a friend told me early on Monday that our friend, Chris Raines, was killed in a car accident.
I was shocked, to the point that I had no idea how to react. For me, tragedy generally is responded to with…numbness. I was preparing for a trip into Chicago and just had this sort of dull feeling of life’s unfairness. I didn’t process it, I couldn’t figure it out. It wasn’t until, hours later, I was sitting alone at Union Station waiting for a friend’s train to arrive, that I actually felt it. The thought that stood foremost in my mind was this: “I never thanked Chris for helping me, essentially, build my professional identity.”
Chris and I first met via Twitter, and were both active in the #AgChat community. He was most well-known in social media by his Twitter handle, @itweetmeat. When the AgChat Foundation was formed, Chris served as a member of the Board of Directors. At the 2010 AgChat Conference in Chicago, Chris, in passing, took a picture of me doing something and tagged it with the Twitter hashtag “#KellytheIntern.” Other people at the conference picked up on it, and suddenly I had my own hashtag. That hashtag became something that people recognized me by in the ag comm circles. In fact, the joke sort of brought about a realization for me. I had to become Kelly the Intern. And, for the last few years of my life, Kelly the Intern has been my brand. It’s been a large part of my online personality. Many of my adventures over the summer working for AdFarm included “Kelly the Intern” stories as told by co-workers.
Everything I’ve built my job-seeking, internship-hunting, career-developing identity on was because of Chris. I, personally, feel like Chris’s good-natured Twitter teasing helped play a big part in some of the amazing experiences I’ve had since August of 2010.
Chris and I had joked about this a few times. He had said that he opened a can of worms, and I’d give him a nonchalant or joking “thank you” in passing. Now, I wish I’d set aside time to tell Chris how much that meant to me. As I stare down the reality that very soon, I will stop being the intern and become “Kelly the Professional,” I’m struck by how big of a role that Chris’s joke ended up having in this phase of my life.
I’ve thought about this a lot over the last few days, since the sad news found its way to me on Monday. It’s been in the back of my mind, even as I roamed around Chicago with friends. This is a common problem. All too often, we take for granted the people in our lives who, through small acts and interactions, help shape who we are and where we go. I consider the other contributions Chris made to my life in other ways.
Chris, true to his passions for academia (he was a meat science professor at Penn State), had a way of provoking thought. Many times, he would post something on Facebook that I’d be unsure of. Either, I’d disagree, or I’d be struck by the realization that I was so uninformed that I couldn’t begin to have an opinion on the topic. Either way, the discussions spawned by these posts were always fantastic. It was impossible for me to click away from his wall without having learned more about meat production and processing, or food in general. I learned so much from him, and enjoyed many insightful conversations with him. He was a community leader, a much-loved voice in the food blogging world, and a strong promoter of agricultural discussion and outreach.
My challenge to those of you who mourn for Chris, and in preparation for the unavoidable truth that we will all lose people we love along the way, is this: take no loved one, or their role in your life, for granted. A matter of days ago, Chris was one of many friends met through social media. He was one thread of the fabric that creates my beautiful online community, that is becoming more interwoven with my offline life by the day. But, as we often see with finely-woven tapestries, one snagged or torn thread can leave a bare spot that cannot be filled. Appreciate that beautiful work of art, and be sure to show apt gratitude for the people who take part in it.
With that said, I’m going to take some time now and then to express due sadness. I’m going to acknowledge the loss of a great mind and bright personality. At the same time, I understand that a “go-getter” like Chris wouldn’t want his friends and family to spend too much time on tears. It’s a much better tribute to his memory, to go out and do whatever it is we do with the most passion, vigor, dedication, and tenacity we can muster. And I’ll do just that.
Chris, thank you for being a part of my life. May you have peace and enjoyment in the great Meats Laboratory on the other side.
Chris’s blog can be found here. Additionally, tributes to Chris’s memory can be found on Twitter by searching for a hashtag in his namesake, #itweetmeat. An obituary can be viewed here. To see an aggregation of news articles and tributes about Chris (put together by my friend Anne Adrian), click here.