Everyone in attendance at Harsha Maddula’s vigil Thursday evening expected an event surrounding the message of “come home safely”. It would be a night to think optimistically, to come together, to hope. No one was ready.
When the news was released of the discovery of the young man’s body in Wilmette Harbor, you could feel the shock travel through the crowd. For three seconds, you could see everyone processing, frozen. Then hugs, and sobs, and prayers, and reality. This time, knowledge was crippling, breaking. There was no power to be seen. Knowledge brought with it the real world, and the real world can be extraordinarily unfair. It suggests that all of the things we were taught before, about the idea of knowing, and wanting to know, maybe were not so true. Knowing does not always make things better. Sometimes, knowing something is really, really hard.
It is strange, considering that one of the things most often heard on our Northwestern campus during the investigation had to do with the knowledge of what had happened. If we just knew if Harsha was alright. If we just knew where he went. What made the whole situation so difficult was being ignorant, and this was so because we all felt limited in what we could do to help. There are only so many hours in a day. There are only so many people in the world. There is only so far that you can look.
We know now of what happened to Harsha. We do not know everything, but we know the important things. But do we feel any better? Is there consolation to be found amid such a horrible tragedy? Maybe. Maybe it is better to go through life knowing something was as you feared, rather than going through life being afraid of the worst-case scenario. At least this way, you know how to start moving past what you were afraid of in the first place.
I will not pretend to have known Harsha—I did not. After the vigil, however, I had a sense of the kind of person he was. The stories told Thursday evening painted the picture of someone who was soft-spoken, selfless, and incredibly bright. Harsha seemed a young man who touched people’s lives in subtle ways. He gave without asking for anything in return. He always kept the well-being of his family and friends in the forefront of his mind. He was firm and solid in his values. He was someone who, whether we knew him or not, we can all learn from right now.
At the vigil, one of the first people to speak was a young woman who had previously prepared a speech that, she told us, had centered around hope. The breaking news, of course, had forced her to make some changes to what she said. There was no hope to be seen, just pain. The final glimmer seemed extinguished.
However, as people kept coming up and sharing their experiences about the young man, it became more and more obvious that Harsha was really all about the opposite of what we were feeling. He was optimistic, bright, positive. He would find something good in this. It is our turn now. We need to find something good.
Through the sadness and loss, peeks a small glint. Small, yet telling to be sure. In the first week of student activity here at Northwestern, the community had still managed to unite. Hardly anyone knew anyone else, and yet we came together under the goal to bring Harsha home safely. Search parties ran around the clock. People made flyers and passed them out in Evanston. The sophomore was in constant thoughts, considerations, and prayers. As the vigil continued, I thought about this, and I was thankful that while Harsha was alive, he had this community around him. He had this community supporting him. He had this community doing everything it could for him. We can take that with us, because Harsha will undoubtedly take it with him.
I believe that if you look hard enough, you can always find blessings in your life. So in the wake of this terrible time for our university, remember the important things. Smile. Call home. Go out of your way to help someone. Take that small glint we have and tear it open. To those who remember him well, Harsha was someone who bettered those around him simply by letting them know that he cared about them. It does not take much. We can do the same.
We are faced with a choice. We can see this situation as a dead end: nothing ahead but road blocks and difficulty, or we can see it as a lesson. Harsha brought us together as one school, one university, One Northwestern. It is a message to us all that even in times when the world is dark, light and hope can be found. We can pick each other up. We can look out for each other. We can keep this sense of community going and going and going. We can be exactly like Harsha: encouraging, positive, and if we can manage it, maybe a little hopeful too.
Maybe in this case, knowledge really is power after all.
Rest in peace, Harsha.