By Leah Klahr
Life is like a rollercoaster
Nine months ago, my cousin Alex Schachter was shot and killed in the Parkland shooting. I had never met Alex, and only vaguely knew of his existence until my father called me the night of the shooting, asking me to pray for Alex. His grandparents, whom my family visited with when we came to Florida, had asked my father to keep Alex in mind as he struggled for his life. I remember going to bed that night praying desperately for someone I had never met, but whose life was suddenly so precious and important to me.
It has some ups and downs / Sometimes you can take it slow / Or very fast.
Alex didn’t survive, as I discovered the next morning. I spent the following hours trying to learn about Alex’s life. Alex was fourteen years old; he played the trombone in his high school marching band; he liked playing football with his cousins; he was my third cousin, and I would never meet him.
It may be hard to breathe at times / But you just have to push yourself and keep going.
At Alex’s funeral, his brother read a poem that Alex had written for a literary fair, two weeks before he was killed. The poem is called “Life is like a Rollercoaster.” “[Alex] decided to write about rollercoasters because he loved rollercoasters… He had no idea his poem would become his future,” Max Schachter said at a CNN town hall gun-debate where he read his son’s poem.
Your bar is your safety / It’s like your family and friends / You hold on tight and don’t let go.
Reading Alex’s poem became a way for me to remember and honor Alex’s memory. But it also became a way for me remember parts of me that had slowly slipped into the background of my life. When I was younger, like Alex, I loved rollercoasters. I loved the thrill of not knowing what was coming next, the feeling of being so high up and close to the sky, and the way that each drop, twist, and turn filled my lungs with excitement. And, like Alex, I had even once written a “Life is like a Rollercoaster” poem of my own.
But sometimes you might throw your hands up / Because your friends and family will always be with you / Just like that bar keeping you safe at all times.
In a way, my love for words and my love for rollercoasters seemed to flow seamlessly into one another. Both filled me with a sense of wonder and joy, with the feeling that anything was possible, and with an almost transcendent vision of life’s endless meaning and mystery. As I grew older, though, that vision often became less accessible to me—even through the means of words and rollercoaster rides. And slowly, my confidence in these vehicles of meaning began to waver and diminish.
It may be too much for you at times / The twists / The turns / The upside downs / But you get back up and keep chugging along.
These past eight months, Alex’s rollercoaster poem has often accompanied me at various moments. The words remind me of the online pictures of his smiling, squinting face. They remind me of hearing Alex’s father recite the poem, the words memorized and engrained in his heart. And as I try to write this, not knowing whether or not to continue attempting to weave a thread of meaning within the chaos of terror and unknowing, his words remind me of that vision I used to have on the top of a rollercoaster – a vision that is ruptured by Alex’s death, but that is also validated through the poem and life he left behind.
Eventually it all comes to a stop / You won’t know when / or how / But you will know that it will be time to get off and start anew.
Alex’s poem hangs on the wall of my room, teaching me about the power of words to come alive and carry meaning in the face of loss and tragedy. His poem doesn’t undo the fact that Alex, a fourteen-year-old boy, was shot and killed without reason. But it does carry a piece of Alex, and of his rollercoaster vision of the world.
Life is like a roller coaster.