I just found out today that a guy who studied maths with me at university died a couple of weeks ago. Technically I'm only a couple of days out of the loop - his body was only just found.
Despite being in the same year, at the same college and studying the same subject, I didn't know Daniel terribly well as a person. I generally hung out with a group of maths students who could legitimately be termed the slackers of the dept (to the extent that anyone at Cambridge can be considered a slacker); Daniel was substantially more driven about his studies. His hobbies were rowing and choir; mine were substantially more eclectic. He spent many an evening in the college bar; in some ways I never fully integrated into my college, and as a result I preferred town pubs.
So most of what I know about him was very shallow and scarce - barely more than what was covered in the obituary. I never knew he was interested in philosophy or computer science, two areas which I also find fascinating. If we'd chatted in more depth, would we have hit it off more? Did I miss an opportunity to make a friend? Heck, would he even have wanted to be my friend? My behaviour at university was often very immature, and my level of personal Quality is in many ways still shocking - am I someone that Daniel could have respected enough to form a bond with?
If not, I hope I can someday be such an individual. Daniel was a very conscientious person, with no fear of hard work and a great deal of raw talent. He was quiet but friendly, the proverbial Nice Guy, and tended to get along with other students of all stripes. In many ways, he was the man I'd like to become.
As an atheist, I have no great expectation of being able, in 50 years or so, to meet Daniel again on the Other Side and impress him with my growth as a person. I don't believe that he's up there now, singing in the heavenly choir or strumming a harp. What I do believe, though, is that he took the time he had and built an awesome life from it. I hope some day I can say the same.