I never met Isaiah Harding. He graduated from North Pole High School nearly two years before I arrived in Fairbanks and our paths never crossed in the six months I’ve been here. Yet I find myself in the position of writing about the celebration of life held for him this past Sunday night at Patriot Field. As you can imagine, that’s a bit of an uncomfortable place to be in.
Yet, sadly, the uncomfortable position I find myself in is also an envious one for those who knew and loved Isaiah Harding.
Harding was killed in a car accident on Aug. 14, four months shy of his 21st birthday. That much I knew before Sunday night and that much anyone else could tell you just by searching his name on Google. To summarize an entire life no matter how tragically short it was is far more complicated than just that simple fact.
The first time I ever heard the name Isaiah Harding was Aug. 21, a week after his passing. What I came to know of him that day, however, told me all that I needed.
Prior to NPHS’ football game against Kenai, the team honored Harding with 36 seconds of silence in honor of his number 36 jersey. They carried a commemorative photo of Harding donned in Patriot blue and embraced his parents in a showing of condolence. When the silence ended, everyone at Patriot Field erupted in applause.
Eventually, the Patriots went up 36-0. Though they had the opportunity to score an additional touchdown late in the fourth quarter, they opted to kneel the possession out in order to keep the 36 on the board. North Pole head coach Mike Hollett took the opportunity to talk about Harding after the game and helped me and the readers of the News-Miner get a better understanding of who Harding was.
“Isaiah was the kind of kid that you wanted to coach,” Hollett said. “He was the kid that showed up early, worked through adversity, knew how to be positive, always had a smile on his face. Everybody loved Isaiah. Isaiah was the kind of kid you loved to play with, you loved to play for, and he was going to do great things in our community and our community is better that he was in it. I’m glad we could put up 36 for him.”
The mention of community and making North Pole a better place was a theme that stood out the more I heard about Harding.
He worked in landscaping for the company Mainscapes, helping to develop the land in and around North Pole. He was a captain of the football team his senior year and participated in choir, giving his body as well as his voice to and for others. Even after his life was cut short, he still continued to give. As a donor, Harding’s organs will now go to help save others.
When Harding’s fiancé, Sierra Mitchell, asked me to cover his celebration of life ceremony, I agreed out of respect. I must be honest, however, I wasn’t sure if I belonged.
I recently turned 30 and I’ve already had to attend far more funerals than I would like to remember. This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen parents have to say farewell to a child, sisters say farewell to a brother, or a partner say goodbye to their lover. Each time before, however, it’d been someone I’d known. I would know who to talk to and even if I didn’t know what to say, I had some idea of how to say it.
That wasn’t the case Sunday. I saw Harding’s family, friends, loved ones, and I had no idea what to say to any of them. I realized there probably wasn’t anything that I could do or say at that place or time that would register any sort of impact. What could you ever possibly say to parents who’d just lost a child? Instead, I opted not to say anything. Rather, I decided to listen.
As Harding’s mother Danielle spoke of him, she described someone with a generous heart. Based on what I’d heard up to that point, that tracked. She spoke of how much he loved other people and how much they loved him in return. Based on the roughly 200 people in attendance Sunday night, that too seemed to fit. She said he gave his all in everything that he did. Giving up his organs to save lives even in death, that too would seem accurate.
There were plenty of aspirations on the program for the celebration of life for Harding that described him. Genuine. Dependable. True to himself. The words on the program that seemed to ring true the most, however, were at the very bottom of the inside:
“When we lose someone we love, we must learn not to live without them, but to live with the love they left behind.”
I didn’t know Isaiah Harding. I do know what it’s like to lose someone you love, though. Many of you reading this know that feeling too. Sadly, those of you who don’t will know soon enough. Tragically, those in attendance Sunday feeling the loss of Harding will know the pain of loss again.
That being said, there are lessons to be learned in the life and death of Isaiah Harding. Hollett spoke of Harding making North Pole, a community known for it’s strength and resiliency, an even better place. That’s something all of us can strive do in our lives.
Harding’s mother spoke of him giving his all and caring for others. That too is something each of us should constantly strive to do. We can be here for one another in the time that we have and appreciate one another before we’re gone. We can love one another the way Isaiah Harding loved life and the people in it.
Even in his death, we can learn to appreciate the moments we have with one another, because we don’t know how much time we have. Speaking from experience, the pain of Harding’s loss will never disappear completely for those who knew him. Again, speaking from experience, however, that pain will become manageable for those who knew him with time and the help of those closest to them.
Isaiah Harding’s life should teach us to give ourselves completely to what we love and to love completely. His death should teach us that we should cherish one another in the time that we have.
No, I didn’t know Isaiah Harding. Knowing what I know now, however, I wish that I had.