I sat in a tiny room with blue walls hearing my student mispronounce a variety of words. Pim, one of the refugee students I work with, was asking me a question dealing with his vocabulary lesson. His current chapter, "Growing Up: Memories", dealt with words describing life in a distant past. Memoirs, remembrance, and gratitude were some of the words Pim needed to memorize and assimilate into his lexicon.
One of the words, gratitude, stood in my mind. As I sat with Pim helping him form proper sentences utilizing his newly-acquired vocabulary, I couldn't help but think about the passing of a dear friend and professional acquaintance, Steve Starr.
Steve Starr, a freelance photographer based in Chicago, was known throughout the fashion and socialite scene and loved by those he beautifully captured through his lens. A well-known man of both wit and integrity, he passed away Monday after collapsing on a sidewalk outside of the Drake Hotel in downtown Chicago. According to varying sources, he was grabbing a bite with some friends shortly before suffering a heart attack.
I stared at the piece of paper where Pim was writing 4 sentences with the words memoirs and remembrance. He looked over and asked if I had some sample sentences to share with him. I nodded my head and read aloud two of the sentences I wrote:
"Memoirs are used to capture the experiences that influence are lives. A moment of remembrance is meant to honor the people, places, and things we cherish most, like those that have entered the next life."
Pim looked at me, smiled, and went back to writing his sentences.
Starr was 65 years-young when he parted this earth. I believe the word remembrance is quite fitting for a man like Steve. The things I remember about the pal I referred to as Steve-O Estrella (Spanish for "star") are the ways in which he would smile in that sly way of his only to pull out his camera 3 seconds later and take one of the most intriguing pictures of his subject possible. During the Fashion of the Opera event in October, Steve and I shared a moment while sipping champagne. "You know, I really don't care to be a celebrity," he mentioned while tipping his signature hat. "People always want to make you big, but the only person that can make you grow is yourself."
On the altar I arranged for Steve, I have a photograph of him, a small plastic camera, a bottle of water, and a shot of tequila. During Lily's Talent Agency's 30th Anniversary rendezvous at The Drake last week, he'd confessed his love for Mexican culture, cuisine, and, particularly, tequila. "When I have my event on the 12th, you need to bring the good (tequila)," he mentioned to me over a glass of wine. "None of that stuff that college kids drink - I want to feel like I'm in Mexico drinking the good stuff." While I can't say that we had the chance to savor finely distilled tequila together, I've made it a point to fill his shot glass every evening with a fresh dose of the fine Mexican elixir.
"Jorge, I'm finished," Pim shyly mentioned. "Can I read you my sentences?"
"I have gratitude for good friends and loving family. I grow up in Cambodia and know memoirs of my mother, who writes every day in her journal. One day, she read to me about growing up very poor in the country, but has remembrance for her father who died coming to America."
I smiled, added a few words of wisdom, and dismissed Pim from our session. "Did I do good, Mr. Jorge? I feel I'm getting better in English."
Pim is a great student: full of life and ambition. What I remember most about that session with him are those three words he used: memoirs, remembrance, gratitude. I share with my industry peers the diverse emotions the unexpected passing of our friend Steve Starr has fostered. Nevertheless, I know that Steve-O wouldn't want us to consider his passing a tragedy. Instead, he would urge us to celebrate and basque "in the light" as he would often say while making one look absolutely divine.
A private family-exclusive burial will be held for him in the next few days.
I know in my heart that Steve is watching over each and every one of the folks he's touched with his charisma, joie de vivre, and positive energy. While we've lost a dear friend, we've gained an angel that serves as inspiration to do good in such a diverse, high-energy industry.
Last night, I opened up my favorite tequila hailing from my grandparent's home state of Guanajuato, poured two shots, and smiled as I looked at Steve's glamor shot - black suit, unbuttoned white shirt, camera-ready. I took a deep breath, held one shot in my hand, and gently placed the other right next to the camera on his alter. I exhaled.
¡Pa'rriba, pa'abajo, pa'l centro, y pa' dentro! (Upwards, downwards, to the center, and down it goes!)
This one is for you, Steve Estrella. Salud, amigo.