Last week I learned that a friend from high school and college had passed away. It affected me pretty deeply. Not because we were best friends - but because the reason we weren't close friends likely had more to do with the challenges I've always had forging and maintaining friendships. It's a testament to his unwillingness to give up on building a friendship with anyone and everyone that we were able to be in touch over the years.
In any event, this horribly sad loss affects everyone who knew Patrick Wang, who was always cheerful and positive, and who always made friends everywhere he went. I debated whether to post this, but in the off chance that there are others whose lives were touched by Patrick haven't found out yet, I thought I'd try to get the word out.
Some context for the note below: This is something I wrote for a group of us who spent an amazing year in China with Patrick during college. Patrick was always hard to miss. You couldn't help but hear him if he was speaking anywhere nearby, because he had a very distinctive, enthusiastic voice that he projected unconsciously. In my more uncharitable moments (and there were way more than I care to admit) I would find myself mildly annoyed by how much his voice carried down the halls at the Peking University foreign student dorms.
I didn't know Patrick the best of all of us - many of you came to be much closer to him, and were better friends to him than I have been. But I think maybe I’ve known him the longest. And I know many of you know him as PJ... but that never really stuck for me.
When I started my freshman year of high school, there was this goofy sophomore that everyone called “Wanger”. I’m pretty sure he never liked the name, but it never stopped him from cheerfully greeting everyone who called him that. He was on the water polo and swim team. He wasn’t that good. But he always practiced, and he never complained. And when the jocks called him Wanger, he kept right on smiling. Because the thing about Patrick is he never let the smallness and petiness of those around him bring him down.
Everyone in high school knew Patrick. He was always making people laugh, and you could always hear his loud, contagiously enthusiastic voice out on the quad. He was always showing up in school assembly skits, being his goofy self. It always made me angry to think that sometimes the laughter was at him, and not with him. But the thing about Patrick is that it didn’t matter. What was important is that he was up there leading and being unafraid - at an age when most of us were doing everything to prove we fit in, Patrick was undeniably himself.
I got to China, and there he was. Patrick. Wanger. It was great to see a familiar face, though we weren’t particularly close in high school. But when we saw each other, Patrick greeted me like I was his oldest friend. I remember him introducing me to a lot of you guys at the airport, with more energy and enthusiasm than anyone on the back-end of a pan-Pacific flight has any right to have. And I remember thinking, “Did Patrick already know all these people before this trip?” even though I knew that it wasn’t the case. For those of you who flew over to Beijing with him, by the time you landed he proabably made you feel like he was one of your oldest friends. Because the thing about Patrick is, there was no other way.
When I found out that he was going to work for the DNC four years ago, I thought, “Of course.” Because, how could Patrick NOT work on a campaign whose one-word slogan was “Hope”?
I don’t think, in the 22 years I knew him, I ever heard him say a negative word about anyone. Ever. The thing about Patrick is, kindness wasn’t just a virtue. Kindness was his way of being.
I don’t know any of the details of what happened. I’m not sure if I ever really want to know. All I know is that he’s gone, and I’ll never have the chance to live up to the potential he saw in me as a friend. I’m thankful for each and every one of you who was a good friend to him. Thank you, all.
The thing about Patrick is, he taught me about friendship. He taught me that friendship is never to be taken for granted, and if you wake up each morning knowing that you have friends in this world, it’s really not that hard to greet each day with a smile. I promise that I won’t forget this lesson - which has taken me half my life and the loss of a beautiful soul to learn.
One final thing about Patrick: he’s impossible to forget. We’re never going to hear his incorrigible, cheerfully brash voice again. But I promise you, if you stop for a moment and remember him, you’ll hear him. Maybe you won’t understand what crazy, crackpot thing he’s saying, and maybe you won’t be able to make out the words, but if you close your eyes and try, I promise that each and every one of you will see that huge grin that was always on his face, you’ll hear his voice again.
I hear you Patrick.