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Chester County Press

'Love you, Homie'

09/10/2014 04:56PM ● By Lev

A Chester County Press reporter sat in the 19th row of the St. Rocco's Catholic Church last Friday afternoon, at the memorial service for 17-year-old Raziel Mireles Castaneda, an Avon Grove High School student who lost his life in a drowning accident eight days before.

The reporter watched students, Avon Grove administrators and teachers, and members of the community file into the church -- some of them weeping, some not sure what to say to the Castaneda family who sat in the front row, and so many others for whom an occasion such as this calls for them to breathe in the heavy air of a life's brazen robbery. 

Raziel Castaneda's star was on the rise; he was a good student; he helped the youth of the community at the Garage Community and Youth Center in West Grove in his free time; he was a teaching assistant in the religious study programs at St. Rocco's. He wanted to eventually attend Penn State and now, just as his life was to truly begin, those gathered at the viewing and the nearly 1,000 who attended his memorial Mass are being asked to carry on without him. 

Of our greatest virtues – faith, love and hope – only hope rests purely on what is yet to come. When a young person is suddenly taken from us, such as when Castaneda died on Aug. 28, we as a community die a little. Our expressions of mourning frantically attempt to cling onto something – any bright bead of explanation – that can allow us to comprehend such a degree of loss.

We are, at our best, a resilient people; give us a bomb-scarred battleground in the Middle East and we will get by; give us the tragedy of a hurricane's fury on a city and we become stronger. Yet give us the death of a young person of such promise, of such potential, and we become immovable.

The reporter left the pew. On his way out of the church, he stopped to look at the dozens of small, handwritten notes written to Castaneda from his fellow students that were posted in the church lobby. In note after note, it was said that Castaneda made a lot of his fellow students at Avon Grove laugh.  

In the many photographs of Castaneda that were displayed in the lobby, the young man looked directly into the camera, with eyes illuminated by his oversized, black-rimmed eyeglasses. He wore a smile that seemed more bemused than glowing, one that seemed to belong to a person who looks at the world like it's a comedy; an observer of the lightness of life.

Where there are no reasons, we invent them, and so the brief comet that defined Castaneda's life was intended to tell us that life is to be enjoyed, for however long it lasts. On his way out of the church, the reporter stopped and read a student's note:


Hey Homie:


I just saw you Thursday. This is so surreal. I don't know why bad things happen to good people, but God called you home. It's hard to take that I'll never see your smiling face in class again, but I know you're still smiling. You were taken from us too soon but this is not goodbye. Love you Homie. Keep lookin out. RIP.


XOXO Heidi

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