If you ever saw the smile of Sterling Archer Nesbitt, you would no doubt believe that his face captured every bit the magic of pure innocence. There was also a soft and quiet contemplation about him—a sort of weightless gaze that seemed to delight in his curiosity about all the things he saw. I never knew Sterling, nor did I ever meet him. I only saw a black and white picture of him in the newspaper—a thumbnail size photo of about a square inch for us to get a glimpse into his short, but beautiful life.
Sterling Archer Nesbitt was exactly 7 months and 22 days old when he died.
I have never known anyone that young, who has passed away that soon. Regardless, I can tell you that from the moment I saw him, Sterling had already left a mark on this world, well beyond that of the family and friends who loved him. There was something mesmerizing about his face being frozen in time in that photo. Looking at his picture, I couldn’t help but wonder how his life might have been—not so much the places he would have seen, but rather the people he would have met. These are people he would have touched and changed. While he was never given that chance to make those connections, one thing is for sure: the spirit of Sterling is alive and will do its job to take care of what Sterling would have done.
While the impression he has made on me is quite real, I can’t help but feel for his parents and his brother. In the obituary, there was a poem by W.H. Auden that ran alongside Sterling’s photo. The last two stanzas read:
He was my North, my South, my East and my West,
My working week and my Sunday rest.
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song:
I thought that love would last forever:
I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
When a gift like Sterling is snatched away from your cradling arms, and you have nothing but a heart of emptiness to fill the void, how does one cope? I have a good friend who, some forty years ago, lost her son, Jeff, to a brain aneurysm. He was 16 when he died, and our entire neighborhood loved him. We loved Jeff’s character—his zest for life, and his simple, good nature. I was seven years old at the time, but I still vividly remember the group of adults in the mother’s living room. With heads down in disbelief, and tears dropping like rain, there was nothing but darkness to grasp. Even the collective comfort that was there to console the parents was having a difficult time making sense of anything. Though the intense grieving has passed, to this day, she still accidentally calls her other kids by his name.
I think what it all comes down to—writing these words—is hoping the families of these kids will see the ripple effect that their children have had, even if a life doesn’t make it to a year. One more day. If that was all that was granted for a parent to be with their lost child, they would take it in a heartbeat. One more minute. One more second.
And that is all that I am asking for. One more day, every day, to keep remembering Sterling as someone who mattered—someone who, ironically, lived like there was no tomorrow. For anyone who refuses to live that way, remember the incredible boy named Sterling Archer Nesbitt. He just might lead you to a life happily ever after.
Copyright Ros Hill 2014