MONTICELLO, NY — “Death be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so, For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow, die not, poor death.”
So wrote the poet John Donne to remind us that death cannot overthrow the memory of a life that lives on in the hearts and minds of those still here to cherish it. And so it is in the spirit of her life, and not her untimely death at the tender age of 21, that I choose to celebrate the eternal memory of Jessica Fingers, the 2009 Monticello Graduate, Mayor’s Cup Winner, runner extraordinaire, champion, teammate, role model, brilliant student, possessor of a captivating smile and aura, daughter, sister and to countless legions of us, an endearing friend.
The last time I let words flow on Jessica’s behalf was in November of 2008 in a piece in this newspaper entitled “Hail Columbia.” The occasion then was Jessica’s decision to accept nearly a full scholarship to prestigious Columbia University. Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships and so her award was based on her academic credentials and, of course, the blessing to run cross-country and track for the Lions while endeavoring to prepare for a possible future career in marketing or law. Promise is what lay before her… a world awaiting her stalwart perseverance that had enforced a running career beyond the pale at Monticello season after season.
In that narrative I had recounted my observations of an athlete with an uncanny work ethic, a team leader, a runner who was literally poetry in motion with a body forged through the rigors of assiduous training and self discipline. Over the four years of her high school tenure, Jessica had risen to prominence and with that ascendance came the accolades, the stories, the photos and the publicity that drew countless Division 1 colleges and universities bent on recruiting her.
Amidst the legions of Section 9 athletes within my purview, my camera sought her out along the shores of Hessian Lake at Bear Mountain, around the track in Gillis Field House at West Point and across the numerous spring venues and state meets at which she bore that royal blue Monticello uniform, turned heads and made history. Her bright smile would greet me after her epic runs as she stood just past the finish line breathing heavily exuding joy and humility. I will always picture her thus, that radiant embodiment and promise of youth, rife with the ardor and force that could conquer pain, distance and rivalry to find something stronger within, something more resilient, something born of will and empowered by the willingness to make a dream come true.
We are all born into this world as a singularly unique light, and that light comes into this plane of existence with hope, aspirations and dreams. Some lights burn more brightly than others, but for all their brilliance they do not last.
Even so, their luminosity extends across regions and chases darkness wherever it shines.
Jessica was just such a light: dazzling, warm, enlightening. And so it is when such a light goes suddenly out that we gasp at the stultifying darkness. We feel sightless and lost as we struggle to adjust to the pall and gloom created by its disappearance. But that darkness is like the death spoken of by Donne in his poem: temporary and futile. For when we close our eyes the light reappears, reborn as the memory of that life that lit up our world.
I thought at first that I would recite the litany of Jessica’s accomplishments but I’ve chosen not to do. For she was so much more than a collection of medals, times run or records set. She was Jessica Sarah Lightheart and she always will be so.
Tonight there is a brilliant light racing along the course of Heaven’s trails blazing the way for all of us who will one day hearken thence. Death be not proud. You have not claimed Jessica, for she lives on. Her eternal light shines within those of us privileged to have bathed in her radiance. Jessica, we will miss you here among us in your lovely earthly form, but your eternal flame will be passed on from one to the other of us for the rest of our days.
You have become immortal.