My mom likes to idealize (and as a result, idolize) certain people. If she wanted to drill some value in me, or cajole me into action, she’d invoke one of her paragons. Her most common aspiration was Chase Moore.

Chase and I were on the periphery of each other’s lives. He was two years older than me, and we had no common friends. But because Chase was both a musician and an athlete, his name conveyed weighty notions of all-American perfection, or just exceptionalism. He was handsome. He was smart and golden and earnest.

We played violin together, which is to say that Chase was concertmaster of our orchestra, and I was severely out of tune. I can see him now, turning from his chair in the front of the auditorium and smiling back at me.

But not just me. Chase smiled at everyone.

I hadn’t thought about Chase for years before my mom emailed his obituary to me. I immediately called her, but I soon hung up because I couldn’t stand her sobbing.

She choked out a memory of Chase performing the theme to Schindler’s List for her class. I had heard him practice it. He soared and reached for notes with such beauty and depth that I wonder now, as I did then, how does someone so young create this?

I modeled my life after his life. I watched him be gentle, and so I was gentle. I stole his jokes and the way in which he wore his shirts and how he talked to girls. Chase was popular (he knew everyone), and so I wanted to be popular. But more importantly (much more importantly, I now realize), he was respected. People at my high school did not envy Chase for his gifts. There was this notion that he had earned them.

I’m crying now, and I feel fraudulent. I was not close to Chase. I was not his friend. But he was desperately important to me, and I’m ashamed that I never told him how much his kindness changed me and my life. He is forever the senior, and I am the sophomore, and his warm but fleeting acknowledgments built me, his cheap facsimile. I can offer nothing but my condolences to those who truly knew him and who are grieving, and to those who were not given the opportunity.

To everyone else: tell yours that you love them. Be gentle. Know that someone is looking up to you, and try to carry that responsibility with grace and character. Be Chase Moore.

I’m going to go play my violin.