Authentic Eagles: Joe Carroll on Acceptance

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality  can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working towards being more authentic.

Joe Carroll, CSOM ’15

Three wristbands, two shirts, and a picture I keep on my nightstand. Those are the tangible reminders that I have of the friend I lost over three and a half years ago. It may not seem like much, but those things are exactly what I need when I have trouble remembering the promises that I made to myself following that day. There have been many speed bumps along the way, but it is my firm belief that through the tragedy I experienced, I was able to grow into a stronger and more loving individual.

My friend BJ died suddenly on January 31 of 2011. BJ was one of the first friends that I made in high school. We both attended a private school that had very few people from either of our hometowns. BJ sat in front of me in homeroom freshman year, and we almost immediately hit it off. Over the next three and a half years, BJ and I did so much together in and out of school that I can easily say that he was my best friend during those years. Whether it was cheering on the football team in the fall, snowboarding in the winter, or struggling through baseball in the spring, it was easy to tell how much we enjoyed spending our time together. That is the reason I struggled for such a long time following that day. I really didn’t know how to move on or how I was going to make it through the rest of the year without him there. It was impossible for me to imagine doing the things that we had planned to do before leaving for college. I remember vividly what happened that day, but the weeks following are clouded from my memory. It was not until much later that I was able to look back and explore what I went through. Now, I take what I learned after going through those weeks to guide the decisions that I make every day.

Those T-shirts and wristbands that I keep with me all have a phrase on them that has meant more to me than anything else since that day. The phrase “Live Like BJ”, has been something that I have done my best to live out in my everyday life. This has meant very different things to me at different points in the last three years. Early on, it served as a painful reminder to the friend that I had lost. It did help, in some way, to force me to appreciate the small things that happened around me. But at this point, I wasn’t interested in those things. It wasn’t until the end of the school year that I finally started to understand how to start living with the circumstances into which I had been forced. I was given the opportunity to lead a retreat for a group of juniors at my high school. The weekend I spent on the retreat was my first chance to take a step back and truly reflect on everything that had happened after that day in January. What I came to realize was that although I had made it through the school year, I wasn’t truly happy. However, I was perfectly ok with that. I didn’t want to be happy. I couldn’t allow myself to be happy when one of my best friends had died earlier that year. I had turned away from the people that were there to support me and I wasn’t making any attempt to rectify that fact. One would think that this realization would dishearten me or just make things worse, but I think that this was the best thing that could have happened to me on the retreat.

Once I accepted the fact that I was not allowing myself to be happy, I was finally able to start the healing process and start living out the phrase that I had been wearing for months. That is not to say that this was something I did quickly. This healing and acceptance took a long time, and I cannot even say that I am exactly where I want to be today. However, I know the progress that I have made is not only my own doing, but it is thanks to the many people who have been with me since that day. I struggled early on after leaving home and coming to Boston College. This meant leaving all the people I felt comfortable with and the people who knew what had happened that year. It was not until I found people that I could really talk to that I began to search for that happiness I so desired. It was the fact that I was finally allowing myself to be happy that helped me realize that this was the best way I could continue the life that BJ had left behind. I had at one time thought that I didn’t deserve to be happy because he was gone. But now, I realize that if I could have promised him one thing, it would have been to keep laughing like we had for years and to spread that laughter to as many people as possible. For me, that is what it means to “Live Like BJ”.