Today was the funeral for Jason Polan, my classmate from second grade through college. Two things were evident from childhood: he was talented and he was kind. (He was also the cutest eight-year-old, and thus the first object of my affection.) His elementary school doodles became murals in high school and a thrice-weekly comic strip in our college paper. Then he went to New York and quietly made a name for himself, drawing prolifically, showing and publishing his work, collaborating with everyone from the New York Times to Nike, Marvel to Warby Parker, Tartine to Momofuku. Every new accomplishment would make me so excited, not just because I knew him but because he was such a good person — and what’s more gratifying than seeing a genuinely good person succeed?
Jason’s kindness was palpable even in the pictures and observations he posted on Instagram. Also apparent there is his delight in the details of everyday life, in silly coincidences, in the people and things that most would consider background noise. Everything fascinated him, and he made you see how fascinating everything is.
Many of these qualities can be traced to his incredible family — especially his mother, who everyone knew because she ran the PTA and pretty much everything else in our community — and I am devastated for them. Jason’s sister Jennifer died of a brain hemorrhage at 23, two days before he and I graduated from high school. His parents have already had to bury two of their three children.
That is just not right.
Last year, the Atlantic published a profile of Ocean Vuong that was written by Kat Chow, who had gone to the same high school. While they hadn’t overlapped there, that shared experience grounded their conversation beautifully. After reading that piece, I wondered if I could do a similar interview with Jason when I was further along in my career. I wanted to know what his experience of high school was like, how his sister’s death changed his work and his relationship with his family, what it was like for him to live in New York when his disposition was so thoroughly Midwestern and he was so close with his family. After he died on Monday, I found myself adding to the list of questions I will never get to ask: When you are so good at seeing and celebrating the minutiae of life, when you delight in small, lovely moments of human connection and compassion, when you are so finely tuned to the tiny details of being alive that most of us never see because we’re too damn busy running from place to place — what is it like to realize that all of that is coming to an end?
I am mourning the loss of a childhood friend and an immensely gifted artist, but more than anything, I’m mourning the loss of a really good person. I thought that about you often, Jason. In a world full of assholes, you were quietly kind to everyone, strangers and friends alike — never drawing attention to it, just being who you are, no matter where you were. The world is darker and less delightful without you in it.
Obituaries and articles:
A few of the many tributes on the internet: