Living Beyond Your Means
“I write not because I have the strength to write, but because I do not have the strength to remain silent.” — Rav Avraham Yitzchok Kook zt’
In my last post I introduced you to an extraordinary avatar named Namav Abramovic. Namav's adventures and the impact he had on others in Second Life embody what I have found to be true about my own virtual experiences. Virtual reality is as real and relevant as our physical lives. In some cases it even empowers us to be more than we thought possible. That was certainly was true of Namav. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to the story...
Having accepted Namav's invitation to dance and talk, I changed back into human form and we headed to a quiet ballroom. There, I learned some important facts:
First, Namav's real name was Nick Dupree. He and his younger brother, Jamie Dupree, were born with a rare neuro-muscular disorder that left them unable to breathe or eat on their own. At the time we met, Nick was living in rural Alabama with his mother, brother, and grandmother.
Second, Nick was not shy or secretive. You could ask him just about anything as long as you were prepared to be asked anything in return.
Third, Nick was intensely curious, well-educated, and could talk about everything from healthcare, politics, and disability rights to music, the Torah, and poetry. He was an excellent writer and artist, with a goofy sense of humor. If you doubt me, look up "Superdude Comics - Bunnies in Space."
Fourth, Nick was a fighter, and a very articulate one at that. When he realized that he would lose access to funding for nursing care when he turned 21, he launched "Nick's Crusade." The campaign resulted in a program that allowed 30 ventilator-dependent Alabamians to continue home care after they turned 21.
Finally, Nick would not tolerate pity, He'd lived with his condition since birth and had long ago accepted it. His focus, as he often said, was on having a life. He never stopped looking for ways to move beyond the confines of his ventilator and wheelchair. That's one reason he cherished Second Life.
As impressed as I was that day, I had no idea how many people Nick had touched and how deep their concern was until I got an invitation to a fundraising event. Entitled "New Worlds for Namav," its purpose was to collect the money needed to relocate Nick from his home in Alabama to New York City. Both the organizers and Nick felt that being in New York would greatly improve his life. But to be honest, this was a big ask. Moving Nick across the country was not a simple matter of packing bags and loading up a car. He needed a ventilator to breathe and medical staff to ensure that he arrived safely.
Despite all this, the Second Life community came through. We raised more than $15,000 at the fundraiser and got Nick moved. I couldn't have been prouder had I driven to Alabama and helped with the physical move myself.
In New York, Nick did indeed thrive. He made new friends, went to museums, and continued to create quirky drawings for his comic book series. He also married the woman he'd fallen in love with in Second Life, Alejandra Ospina. In Second Life, every avatar who had watched their romance blossom and contributed money to Nick's relocation celebrated. It was great to see his hopes and dreams come true in physical reality.
I wish I could say that Nick got his happily ever after life. But after seven years and eight months of marriage, the couple began to quarrel about issues related to nursing care. Eventually, Nick made the difficult decision to move to a hospital - a move he'd fought to avoid all his life. There he contracted pneumonia, developed bedsores, sepsis, and heart problems. He passed away on Saturday, February 18, 2017 at 4:30 am just five days shy of his 35th birthday.
In Second Life, those of us who knew, loved, and championed Nick's right to have the life he so desperately wanted were devastated. Not long after hearing the news, a group of us gathered to share memories and say good-bye.
I didn't have a lot to say at that gathering. A part of me just couldn't believe he was gone. The best I could do at the time was contribute a song that expressed how I knew he would want to be remembered: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i41qWJ6QjPI
Now, however, as I prepare to launch another project designed to help others embrace and find comfort in virtual reality, I wanted to share Nick's story. His life was living proof that we can indeed transcend our limitations and find ways to let our souls fly free. He was both an inspiration and a good friend who could always make me laugh. I miss you Nick. I hope you have finally found peace.