Back in May, I got a note from my doctor. It wasn't about cholesterol levels or heart palpitations; this one was personal.
His son, he said, was interested in journalism and soon would be coming home for the summer after his freshman year in college. Did The News-Times have an internship to offer?
We're too small for a formal internship, I replied, but we'd be happy to work with the lad, let him write an occasional story for us, and have him spend time with our reporters. Just have him send me a note and we'll talk, I told the dad.
And that's how we met Tariq Fischer.
The first time the 19-year-old dropped by the office, he was still hobbling on crutches. He'd caught a toe in the turf while playing soccer on his club team at Swarthmore College near Philadelphia, shattering his ankle and tearing a handful of ligaments.
Though temporarily hobbled, Tariq still hit the ground running, figuratively, at the paper. He was a bright, delightful young man, far more talented than most young writers. Heck, most writers, period. In fact, he was sports editor of The Phoenix, Swarthmore's college newspaper, and had no trouble at all immediately tackling writing assignments for The News-Times.
He also spent some time job-shadowing a couple of our writers. He visited the Columbia County courthouse with Valerie Rowell and checked out police logs with Quandra Collins. He also sat in on staff meetings and was as comfortable as if he worked here, demonstrating an intellectual maturity far beyond his years.
This kid is going places, we thought.
There is, of course, much more to Tariq than just the few weeks he spent occasionally working with his hometown newspaper. But other than accolades for his academic achievements at Lakeside High School before his 2004 graduation, that contact is how we knew him.
It is with terrible sadness that we realize that's all we'll ever know.
Tariq was killed Wednesday when the car he was driving hydroplaned on Interstate 20, slid across the median and slammed into an oncoming truck. Two friends, with whom he was traveling to Atlanta, also were killed.
One of them, we understand, had given a seminar at his mosque the night before on "Life After Death." Until hearing about that, and upon checking into Tariq's funeral arrangements, it hadn't dawned on me that my very-Causasion doctor's son, whose mother is Pakistani, was a Muslim.
Much of what we hear about Muslims these days isn't pretty. It comes from the other side of the world mostly, and is usually attached to hyperbolic words like "terrorist" or "fanatic." It helps us tremendously to round out our views with exposure to people who don't fit the worst stereotypes, demonstrating that the world isn't nearly as narrowly drawn as we allow ourselves to believe.
The world was a pretty broad place for Tariq. His father jokingly agreed that his son was the "black sheep of the family" because he's the only one who wasn't involved in medicine - mom and dad are both physicians, and his older sister is studying to become one. Tariq could have been anything he wanted to be but was intrigued by journalism. It's a career path that pays a lot less than medicine, but brings the frequent reward of continually learning about the world and meeting all kinds of people.
Including people like Tariq Fischer. I'll be eternally grateful that I got a chance to meet him and work with him. And I am devastatingly saddened that such a great young man passed from this world far too soon.
We're hurt at losing a new friend we knew for only a few weeks. How much worse must it be for the family who knew him for 19 years.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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