Today’s going to be a hard day.
The 2010 Youth Peace-Poem Competition, an annual project run by the Powell River Live Poets’ Guild, received a suspect poem from a Grade Seven kid. “A twelve-year-old wrote this?” I said. “Yeah, sure!”
Here’s the poem. Do you know any twelve-year-olds who could pen this?
The reaching evergreenness found in places of respite
Is quickly being paralysed in slowly growing spite
All the simple kindnesses performed from day to day
Are slowly being nullified by people who don’t stay
To stop and think about their life
To make small pleasures last
To realise—to stop the strife—
We must start moving fast
Finding that she’s losing, Mother Nature would give up
But she stays here, haggardly—doesn’t stop to drink or sup
Always raising, never folding, she is losing game-chips fast,
Waiting on us game-counters for rescue from the past
The planet she controls has become “herself” at last
From decades of teaching, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what twelve-year-olds are capable of. The poem was subjected to a plagiarism-checker—a couple of them. I couldn’t have been happier when the poem came out clean. The kid really had the stuff—what would he do, who would he become in the future?
Jasper Solo Mohan went on to win one of the grand prizes that year. A gracious winner, he was never too busy to take part in public readings of the kids’ poems. At Art in the Park that summer, he helped the mayor and the poets’ guild plant a Peace Tree, a baby giant sequoia.
Jasper didn’t enter the competition in 2011. Or in 2012 or 2013. Perhaps he had already said it all or perhaps he was overwhelmingly busy with being sick and all the fundraisers that were being conducted for this amazing young human. Somewhere along the way I crossed my fingers and kept them crossed, until one day in the grocery store I opened the paper and burst into tears to read this:
Jasper Solo Mohan
Jasper Solo died in the late evening of July 10, 2013 at the age of 15. He was at Canuck Place hospice, the window was open and a breeze brought in the scents of the garden. His parents, Barbra and Stephen, never left his side, as promised.
Jasper packed a lot of life into 15 years. Born June 12, 1998 in Victoria, BC, he lived aboard a sailboat and successfully battled cancer before the age of two. After a few years in Calgary, he moved to Powell River and enjoyed a true “boy’s life,” commuting by rowboat from Sevilla Island and exploring the Copeland Islands with his good friend Zach. A friend to all and a leader, he could usually be found singing loudly and he loved to play and invent games. He had the opportunity to travel to England, Hawaii, Tennessee, Oregon, Washington and much of BC and Alberta and was planning to visit France, Italy and Japan. He could read a novel in a sitting and thus was extraordinarily well-read enjoying classics, poetry, adventure, sci-fi and steam-punk. Also a talented writer of poetry, prose and fiction, he leaves many works unfinished. He was proud of our family’s sailboat project, the Carlotta and was a crack sailor in his own right. He was always developing new interests and accomplished much on his goal-list, but more importantly, never stopped adding to it even though he knew he was dying.
Jasper leaves us all behind, but then he always did. If you met him, you knew his intellect surpassed us all. [Family}…will remember him for the times he spent with them using the full force of his grand imagination, his strong voice, stubborn will and sharp tongue, scintillating conversation on any topic and time spent sailing, submerged in sand or in the kitchen.
And the rest…extended family, friends in the musical, medical, school, swimming, library, and sailing communities and all the friends he never met but whose lives he touched through his recent experience with cancer. Perhaps the worst loss is for the world—which will never benefit from his realized potential, which may have just as easily been theatrical performance, as theoretical physics, as computer engineering, jazz composition, politics, creative writing, international aid, fatherhood, Olympic sailing or teaching. So remember him and what he may have become and let it make you better and live more fully, and don’t worry about him because he’s okay now—he finally gets to see what a molecule looks like from the inside.
So, today we gather to celebrate Jasper’s life. Some of us are bringing food we think he would have liked. The Poets’ Guild will announce a new prize for next year’s competition, the Jasper Award for the wisest poem submitted. We’ll try for more laughter than tears.
Very sick children often develop perspicacity and wisdom far beyond their years. In Jasper, those traits found especially fertile ground. His life and his poem teach us how to live better, “to stop and think about [our] life, to make small pleasures last…” and so become ourselves at last.
The Peace Tree Jasper helped plant is now about fifteen feet tall. Powell River will now re-name the sequoia the Jasper Tree, with his poem on a bronze plaque near it—not too close, because sequoias get very big and very old. Generations will gather near the Jasper Tree, read his twelve-year-old thoughts, and leave with the inspiration to become all they can be.