Dylan Widger

Dear readers,

With challenge comes emotion. However, with emotion comes pride and compassion.

One of the most challenging things I’ve ever experienced came over Christmas break. I had travelled back home to Northeast Nebraska to be with my family for the holidays and to catch up with those in the community who I hadn’t seen since being home over the summer.

While I was back in my hometown, I worked for the news publication that I had served as an intern at since graduating high school in 2016. During my time there, I had interviewed dozens of people and made connections with so many members of the community.

One of those people was the local band director of the town the publication was based in. Besides being a teacher, he was involved in numerous local organizations and activities, including a detasseling crew he led in the summer. During my first year at the paper, I did a feature story on him and the detasselers and grew to know him very well.

I had interacted with him previously during my time in band at the neighboring high school, but I hadn’t really gotten to know him until working with him on multiple other stories for my internship. He went from being someone I had briefly interacted with to someone who I looked forward to talking to. He could light up any room with his kindness and witty yet terrible jokes that he could come up with in any situation.

In March of 2017, he started his first round of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with colon cancer. In August of the same year, he was declared cancer free after 12 treatments and rang the victory bell outside the high school he taught at.

However, in 2018, he found out the cancer had come back.

Early on Christmas Eve, he went into surgery to have the cancer removed, this time permanently.

His wife posted updates on Facebook to keep everyone informed on how things were going. Her messages were positive and reassuring, but after several hours, things started to turn. Her messages of positivity started to turn towards pleads for prayers, and after a period of silence, memorial posts started to spread from students, friends and family.

He had passed away after complications during the surgery, leaving behind his wife and three young children.

As I started to see these posts pile up on my newsfeed, I went into a state of shock. Surely the man who inspired so many couldn’t be gone?

Naturally, I was emotional.

I felt a bit guilty because of this. He and I had talked a lot and had gotten to know each other, but I wasn’t a close friend or a family member. I didn’t share any of these close bonds with him that others around me had. I was very conflicted with how emotional I was for someone who I hadn’t known very long.

My boss, who had been friends with the band director since her youth, asked me if I would be willing to take photos at his funeral, which the family referred to as a celebration of life. I replied, “Is it okay if I’m crying?”

Her response is something that has stuck with me since.

“Yeah, you’re human.”

As a society, we often place so much emphasis on appearing strong and composed that we fail to allow ourselves to feel necessary emotions. Often times we are seen as weak when we show emotion. It’s almost like we are expected to act like a cyborg and not react or show emotion for the sake of society.

We are not robots. We are all human. It’s okay to cry.

This year, I’ve been trying to allow myself to portray my emotions. I struggle sometimes with the fear that others will judge me for showing my emotions, but I try to own them.

Being emotional means that I care about something. It means that I am passionate about something. That is something I take pride in and I shouldn’t shy away from it because of what others might think.

So, when the pep band played the school fight song at the end of his celebration of life, I burst into tears. So did everyone else in that gymnasium. It was clear how much he had impacted all of their lives, and seeing everyone sharing both their joy and their sadness reflected how everyone deserves to be emotional over what they care about.

I’d like to wrap this up with a follow-up quote from my boss, which is one I plan on carrying with me through the rest of my life.

“Wherever you end up ... don’t ever let them take away your humanity.”

With encouragement,

Dylan Widger

Assistant Photo Editor