Monday, February 12, 2007


Tough day today, for everyone. Showed up at school and was struck by the sober demeanor of many of the teachers and students I saw on campus early in the morning. Didn't really find out why until I had been there almost an hour. Here's the account that was published later in the day in the Honolulu Advertiser:

Punahou School science teacher Jeremiah Johnson died yesterday during a weekend voyage off Lana'i with 98 students.
Johnson, 36, was one of 14 adults aboard the vessel Rapture on an ocean excursion that left Honolulu on Saturday, said Punahou spokeswoman Laurel Bowers Husain. The boat is due back today.

An inflatable rigid-hull boat connected with the Rapture had taken the teacher to a spot about 120 yards offshore from Shark Fin Rock, said acting Sgt. Nelson Hamilton of the Maui Police Department. Johnson entered the water to free dive at about 10:30 a.m. yesterday, and after 30 seconds when he didn't resurface, the crew looked down and saw him sinking to the bottom, Hamilton said.

The unconscious teacher was brought up to the boat and crew members performed cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. He then was taken to Kaumalapau Harbor on Lana'i, where fire and police personnel were waiting. Hamilton said.

Johnson could not be revived and was pronounced dead on Lana'i. The cause of death was not immediately apparent. Hamilton said an autopsy will be performed either today or tomorrow.

Johnson joined the Punahou staff in January 2003 and was a popular teacher who taught environmental studies and marine biology, Husain said. He is survived by his wife and a young daughter.

Plans for a memorial service have not been announced.
I did not know Jeremiah well; we had spoken perhaps once or twice. But he was close friends with many of my close friends, and it leaves all of us feeling pretty helpless. Here's a bright young guy, happy, capable, healthy, with a wife and a young child, and suddenly, it's over. And we have to try to find ways to support one another in dealing with that reality.

Nothing that any of us can think of to do or say feels adequate. Our friends are hurting, and our school is hurting, and the students, also hurting, are taking their cues from watching us.

There is the tendency to want to stop everything, to dismiss our classes, to go home and hug our loved ones.

And there is a simultaneous tendency to want to continue on with something, to honor the life of this world by returning to it with a renewed purpose.

I didn't want to write this post. I didn't want to not write this post. I'd like to acknowledge and honor Jeremiah, to celebrate his life and to draw from his death some lesson that will serve to enrich the time that we still have on this planet.

But I don't feel adequate to the task. I feel sorrow for Jeremiah, for his family, for my friends, for all of us. My words are what they are: words. No more. I have it mind to offer a prayer, which I will do in my own way, as a Buddhist in front of the altar in my home. I invite those of you who are so inclined to join me, in such a manner as may suffice. Jeremiah Johnson. May he rest in peace.


mark said...

thanks bruce,

another chance to remember jeremiah, whom i was just getting to know, and to think about the family he left behind.

also a chance to think about my own beautiful family and the others i love.

i never handle tragedy and sadness well--too self-conscious, i think--so your words, just as they are, helped.


Anonymous said...

Talking about Jeremiah's death over dinner last night with my son, he talked about the chapel for Punahou students in memory of their teacher. He said he wanted to say, "Hey, God, what's up with that?" when someone who loves the world's natural gifts so much and teaches about nature and its preservation is the one that is taken by the very natural environment that he loves. We are all trying to make sense of a senseless loss. Thanks for your thoughts and honesty. They help.

With aloha,

Chris Lehmann said...

From the other side of the world, our thoughts are with you and your school.

Anonymous said...

I had him as a teacher...and I must say that this is a hard blow to the Punahou community. He was a great teacher, and an even greater friend. The most unfortunate part abou this is that his wife is 3 months pregnant...