I hate writing these posts; another friend gone too soon. This one wasn’t from ALS, it was a fast-acting bacterial infection. That doesn’t make it hurt any more or less, but differently. Friendship with ALS comes with the expectation of loss. Chris Kochtitzy’s passing was a shock – he was fine two weeks ago.
I got to know Chris while working on the STAR Community Rating System (now incorporated into LEED for Cities). We had technical advisors and then we had champions, people who believed so strongly in what we were building that they carried us along with their optimism and enthusiasm. Chris was our biggest champion.
With a background in urban planning and a career at the CDC, Chris was able to keep perspective on the big picture while climbing down into the technical weeds to help me out. I knew I could always call him at the end of the day and get a good solid hour of his time, patiently talking through an issue with me until the solution came into focus.
Or he would connect me with the exact right person, which is how I met Dr. Anthony Fauci. “Very interesting, keep up the good work,” Dr. Fauci said in that now-famous Brooklyn accent.
I am in awe of all of the people who have posted similar experiences on Facebook. Chris would drop everything to help a friend, colleague, or student. He knew everyone and was constantly connecting people who should be talking to one another. A sign of a life well lived.
The last time I traded Facebook comments with Chris was in early March, when we managed to cram two marathons in Jackson, MS and Little Rock, AR into one weekend. Chris reminded me that Jackson was his hometown. Ah yes, how could I have forgotten that his house was firebombed in the ‘60s by the Klan? His commitment to work towards social justice was forged early.
I’ve always thought it’s ludicrous how we share our love and favorite photos and memories of our friends AFTER they are gone (and yes, the hypocrisy of this post is staring me in the face). But Chris didn’t wait – he sent me this email in 2016, two years after my ALS diagnosis. And now, especially now, it is a treasure and comfort. Let this be a lesson to all of us: tell your people what they mean to you before it’s too late.
(The context was that I was tagged in this post from Sarah Coglianese’s blog. Sarah’s entries were so riveting because they were so real, raw, and eloquent, but even she hedged in this one).
While Chris’s symptoms followed the path of covid-19 (sudden symptom onset, hospitalization, ventilation, organ failure), he will not be included in those statistics. And yet, it has made the tragedy real for me. The 250,000+ who have died from coronavirus are individual souls with unique stories, gifts, insights, and services to bestow upon our world – the loss to our society and their loved ones is so much more than just a number. Much like those with ALS.
And yet we have decided to relax social distancing standards because the calendar flipped from April to May? Even while the death toll is rising?
As Chris would say, stay home.
If you missed my FB post from before, I’m resharing the link to the video:
Life is so short…even in quarantine. Stay home if you can.