Rebecca Pisall was a student in my 12th grade Participation in Government class at Sullivan West High School. She graduated in 2011.

Rebecca was kind-hearted young woman who loved animals and was an avid reader….the sort of student who would stay behind after class sometimes to talk to me about something she liked or was doing that day in school…. nothing in particular. Wry, sincere, awkward and caring, the Rebecca I knew personified the joy and pain of being a teenager. Most of us can remember at least a hint of that feeling – even if it was many, many years ago. Or, if you have your own kids, stop, really, pause for a few minutes, and take a good look at them now.

This June, we were getting ready for dinner. My children were home and there was the usual noise and confusion. It’d been another long day at the end of the school year and everyone was tired. “Supper’s almost ready.” When I heard on the six o’clock news that a “Rebecca Pisall” had been shot during an argument over $20 worth of heroin , well, I just couldn’t believe it was the same girl. You know, there are lots of people who live in the Scranton area… Maybe there’s another woman with the same name? Couldn’t be her.

But it was. And, compounding the tragedy for Rebecca’s family was the fact that it was her uncle who was arrested for her death.

The first thing I did when I got back to my classroom after hearing this terrible news was open up my file cabinet and dig out an essay that Rebecca had written for me.  We study philosophies of government and I always have my seniors first write about their own philosophies of life. We talk about their ideas and then compare them to some of the famous thinkers from throughout history. I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of these philosophy essays over the years but Rebecca’s piece has always stood out in my mind -her essay about that bird, the Kingfisher.

Rebecca’s family and friends came together July 12 at the Youth Center in Callicoon to remember her. I brought along Rebecca’s philosophy essay.  I’d sent it to Rebecca’s mom,. Julie Pisall, who had asked me to read the piece for the memorial . In fact, I think Rebecca’s essay deserves a much wider audience. Julie agrees.

Of course, Rebecca’s essay matters because she is yet another casualty of gun violence as well as this terrible epidemic of heroin addiction we’re living through.   Drug abuse isn’t someone else’s problem, it’s not another family’s tragedy. Because if this horrible thing can happen to our Rebecca and her family and friends, it can slam anyone.

But Rebecca’s philosophy essay really matters because of how she lived her life all those years before she fell into the abyss of addiction. Rebecca’s essay is all about her love for animals but it also includes an important idea – listen for her line about really looking at that bird, the Kingfisher. It’s that moment when Rebecca says she finally, actually SEES the bird and “could almost feel what he was going through…”

How often do all of us rush through our busy days and never have enough time to stop and really look at the people around us? To look and actually see them for who they are…to listen and truly care? The pace of life just keeps accelerating and it’s hard to hang onto the days let alone those moments that are so important.

Rebecca was a gentle soul who deeply cared about life – all life. I’m so glad I still have her words to look at.

–John Ogozalek


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