In trying to cobble together words about my friend and former colleague Jessica Lum and her passing this weekend, I’ve thought about working with her — from our collaborative multimedia projects to her pushing me through my only all-nighter in grad school to finish the print edition of Mission Local. I’ve thought about our times together in the Mission and in Berkeley, whether in class, or zigzagging across the neighborhood to complete an assignment, or sharing drinks at a local bar. I thought about what I learned from her and about what kind of person she was. But coherence of emotions and words have been difficult for me since Sunday morning.
So I looked back and found the e-mail I wrote her several months ago, when I first found out she was battling cancer and thought maybe that would reveal some of who she was and how she impacted me and the others who had the benefit of working with her. This is a slightly shortened version.
“Hi Jess, I’ve been struggling to process everything since I heard your news yesterday. I’m super sad, and hope that I’ve given you enough support and friendship and fellowship over the last two years since I met you. And I’m just so shocked at the gravity of the situation — how is it that I saw you several weeks ago and it all seemed so normal to me to just be sitting around drinking beers, grilling corn and sausages? How normal it always was to talk about our futures, and what we should do, and the crazy scary journalistic world we were walking out into.
But mostly, I’m just sad that somebody with so much talent, so much vision, so much to contribute might be barred from doing so way too soon. And I want you to know that you’ve really inspired me and I’ve always admired you and your thoughts, your perspectives, your work. There are photos you’ve taken that have made me go out and try (unsuccessfully) to imitate. That umbrella photo on BART got me obsessed with umbrella photos for the entire following winter. And I know it wasn’t just me, I know it was many in our class, and all those first years at Mission Local who you helped teach and inspire. I really enjoyed working with you – since Multimedia Bootcamp, all the way through the end of grad school as GSRs. You were never a pushover, you had opinions and ideas, and as somebody else who also has opinions and ideas, I really appreciate you aren’t afraid to speak out about what you really think. And your high standards, your critical eye, pushed me and others to be better. So thanks for being you – and having so much vision in so many ways. I’m so glad you were my classmate, colleague and friend.
I also am happy that I’ve known you, that we’ve discussed, brainstormed and made stuff together; that we’ve dreamed, however foolishly. And I’ll continue to dream, and to think about the stories you’ll tell, and to hope and pray that everything gets better for you, that you have less pain. I know you have received an onslaught of support and love from your friends and family, and here’s some from me. You don’t need to write back Jess, I know that’s probably a bit too much effort right now. Just know I’m thinking of you.”