by Brian Israel
November 11, 2016
I’ve been struggling with writing this post for too long and frankly, it’s much overdue. Literally. This was due over a week ago, and I put it off, and then I put it off more. I suppose the primary reason for this is fear. Not long ago, I remember speaking with a friend of mine who happened to be a teacher. This friend was up late on the internet and as I asked what he was doing, he mentioned that he was writing a letter of recommendation for a student and that it was stressing him out. The reason it was stressing him out was because he thought there was no way whatsoever that he could encapsulate how brilliant this kid he was writing a letter for was, and how if the readers at Harvard, or Yale, or wherever this letter was being circulated didn’t understand that, it was his fault. That’s how I feel now. I fear, and for very good reason, that I can never encapsulate in a writing how incredible Kelly Beth Cosby was. How incredible she is. Kelly made my life better, and to be blunt, she made me better.
At Notre Dame, where I attended law school, there is a small cave full of candles called The Grotto. The worst part though, is that much of the beauty of the Grotto came from the flickers of the flames and candles within it, unfortunately, no still photo can capture this. To describe this place as beautiful would be about the equivalent of calling New York City a shanty town, or Michael Jordan “decent at basketball.” It does it no justice. For that reason, I’ve never shown anybody who hasn’t already seen it a picture of The Grotto, I don’t want them to be stuck with this idea that it’s only as good as can be captured in a given photo. It’s the same way with Kelly. Unless you’ve met her, you don’t know how amazing she is, and I don’t want to be the one that gives you a much more mild description. Perhaps, however, The Grotto is an apt metaphor for Kelly, because much of her amazing beauty can’t simply be captured from a writing, because it was and is in the form of a flame within her soul. A flame, that thanks to the Cosbys has been articulated into a number of “be the light habits.”
With that being said, here’s a meager attempt to honor Kelly; it starts a long time ago.
When I was younger, I was an opie-dopey little kid; many would suggest that I still am still opie-dopey, but that’s another story for another day. In my gawky youth, I got bullied; as many people know, middle school children are some of the worst people on the planet. (Disclaimer: Kelly would not approve of that sentence). As a kid, I got picked on for number of reasons, chief of which, I believe involved cooties. Looking back, it’s actually amazing how much grief this fictional ailment caused me, but that was okay, because like most kids going through my struggle, my parents gave me the cliché advice that “It’ll get better when you’re older.” So, I waited until I got older, hoping that one day, I’d find happiness, and people who accepted me. So, I spent my middle school years biding my time until high school and waiting for that promise to come true.
Fast forward to 2004. I enter high school. I didn’t know a lot of people going into high school, but one of the first to greet me was Kelly. To try to describe Kelly briefly, she’s essentially what you get when you combine Audrey Hepburn, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Ellen DeGeneres after she’s taken a couple shots of NyQuil (note: this reference to Nyquil is really less of a commentary on Kelly and more of a commentary on Ellen’s energy…I digress). Upon meeting Kelly, I actually had to ask somebody near me if she went to the same feeder school as me, because she just started talking to me like we had already been best friends for years. Kelly very possibly could have been my first friend in high school, and she was always there for me. If I needed a kind word, she gave it to me; If I needed a hug, she embraced me; if I needed a reality check…she was there for me. If you were trying to cast a “John Hughes Coming of Age Film,” and were looking for somebody to portray the high school best friend, Kelly Cosby is literally the image that comes to mind.
As high school went on, I started making friends and finally felt like I fit in in a way that I never really had before. Unfortunately, at that point, I had to go off to college. I attended Creighton University, and during my first year there, I honestly hated it. I wanted to transfer, and I wanted to leave; I felt like I was losing every single one of my friends back home, friends I had worked so hard to get. It’s hard to really articulate how a kid feels when they spend their middle school years feeling like an outsider, then four years feeling like somebody on the inside, and then feeling like that’s been torn from you. It sucks. I wanted to be with my friends. I had decided to transfer and had filled out applications to do so. Not long after, I got a phone call from Kelly inviting me to go to the KU/OU game in Oklahoma with her and a few other friends. I jumped at the chance (before I even realized these were front row tickets). This may not seem like the biggest deal now, but for me then, it was this act of kindness that convinced me it was okay to be away from my friends, and that I wouldn’t and wasn’t losing them. Kelly, in large part, is why I never transferred from Creighton, and in larger part is why I am where I am now.
That’s who Kelly was. For all I know, she may have not thought twice about that gameday in the fall of 2008, but to me, that changed my life. That’s kind of Kelly’s game though; she changed, and continues to change, lives without even thinking twice about it. Kelly gave me hope that I could get through college and confidence to stay at the institution that gave me the passion to serve others, leading to my year of service, my attendance at Notre Dame Law School, and ultimately making me the lawyer that I am today; Kelly gave me that.
As an aside, and it may be worth noting that until this moment, I’ve only shared the following with one other person: On the morning of November 15th, prior to hearing of Kelly’s death, or even that she was sick again, I thought, “I should really text Kelly and tell her how much she means to me.” Unfortunately, I got busy, and I didn’t. I’ve just recently gotten over that, but that’s another thing Kelly has given me. I now tell my friends, as frequently, and as often as I can, no matter how busy I think that I am, how much they mean to me. My life is better now that I do this, much like it’s better for having had Kelly in it.