Maris spoke at our gathering for Alex in Ashland, Oregon on August 10th, 2014. Below is his transcription.
“For those of you who don’t know, I’m Maris, and I’m here today because I am among a large group of people who were touched by Alex Newport-Berra.
I met Alex as a frustrated kid, a product of both my mediocre academics and my lack of social ability, making me the ultimate loner. At first, tutoring was a burden. That didn’t last long.
Over time, Alex became something of a fascination of mine. He was always so calm, yet at the same time, so alive. It was an interesting comparison to me, relentlessly trying to twist my life against the hands of fate.
I remember, one night, after a late tutoring session, Alex walked me to the door. I think it’s safe to say he made a joke, and then he handed me a red envelope.
“Happy Birthday.” he said.
Yes, it was my birthday.
Inside the envelope was a two dollar bill.
It was then that I realized that I wasn’t just a burden to him. I wasn’t just a way to make ends meet. I mattered to him, because that was just who he was.
If Alex taught me anything it was that math isn’t just numbers and symbols and x’s and y’s, math is a living force that exists on its own. He made me love math.
But not just that.
As I began to excel at math, and realize that I could, I began to work harder at my other subjects.
And it was then that I realized that I was not an exception in the fact that I could socialize. I could interact with people just as well as anybody else if I set my mind to it, and for teaching me that, Alex, I cannot repay you.
He taught me that if you want something, you don’t have to clench and clench until you can clench no more to get it. There is a way to live and relax at the same time. He taught me all these things, without meaning to teach me anything but math.
At the beginning of this summer, he said to me, “Thank you for doing math over the summer. I realize it isn‘t the most fun thing.”
And I was like well, why are you thanking me, you’re using part of your summer to tutor me when you could be doing a myriad of more entertaining things.
“Math is fun with you.” I said.
And it is true.
When I learned of his death, part of me wanted to scream, part of me wanted to cry, and another part of me just wanted to just go to sleep. I couldn’t believe it. He was one of the most lively, animated people I knew. He was with me for the time I changed, grew, and learned who I was, and his death made me realize that he held a baseline for me. He was one of those people who doesn’t appear that much in your life, and in retrospect, doesn’t appear to have that big of an influence, but as I said, he held a base line, and when his death finally became real for me, it felt like I was coping with something bigger than the death of my math tutor. Because that was Alex. He made himself matter more than anyone in his place could.
I’ve thought of, if I knew that the last day I saw him, would be the last day I saw him, what I would say. And this pretty much sums it up.
“Thank you for being awesome.”
Godspeed, Alex. Friend, teacher, awesome math tutor.”