I miss Drew Anderson.
Drew was one of my copy editors the first semester I was a copy chief at The Kansan, and he went on to be a pretty good copy chief for two semesters after that. He died almost a year ago, on Oct. 1, 2011.
Much has already been written about Drew because he was important to a lot of people. I like what our faculty mentor, Doug Ward, had to say in this post, and I think Joel Petterson nailed it when he wrote this editorial for The Kansan. But I never quite found the words to address his death and his memory until now.
There are three things you need to know about Drew Anderson.
He was the biggest KU fan I have ever met.
When I think of Drew, I think of him in blue. His allegiance never changed. His faith never wavered. Kansas fans can be fickle, defensive, even fair-weather; Drew’s fandom was pure. He was also a big fan of the Chiefs and the Royals, which I think really speaks to his superhuman patience.
The day he died, Drew attended the Kansas-Texas Tech football game, one of 10 straight losses for the Jayhawks last season. He was that good a fan. The next day, the Chiefs beat the Vikings and we all knew they won that one for Drew.
He had muscular dystrophy and got around on a motorized scooter.
Most of the time, his physical limitations were about as relevant as mine — neither of us could do a back handspring, but it didn’t change who we were. But it’s impossible to deny that muscular dystrophy made his life harder.
Drew had a lot of friends from the MDA camp he attended every summer, and one day I asked why none of them went to KU. I had assumed it was a matter of logistics — almost any other campus would be easier for someone with mobility problems to navigate — or maybe money, since any kind of chronic illness can be financially draining.
But his answer floored me: Many people with MD simply didn’t have the physical energy required to attend college. As exhausting as college sometimes was, it had never occurred to me how much I relied on my body to get me to classes, meetings, study groups and office hours. For someone whose muscles are getting progressively weaker, that’s a lot to take on.
Drew was a great ambassador for people with disabilities because he was so comfortable with who he was and so casual about his own limitations that it put people at ease. I had never known anyone with a physical disability. In school they teach you that disabled people, just like anyone else, value their independence, don’t appreciate condescension, and aren’t defined by their disabilities. But when I found out he would be working for me on the copy desk, I worried that I would say something insensitive or ask him to do something he wasn’t capable of, or try to do things for him that he could do for himself. But Drew was easy. You never had to pretend you couldn’t see his differences. And while he normally worked without special accommodations, he was comfortable asking for help when he needed it — a rare trait in any population.
But the third thing you should know, the thing that really stood out about Drew, is this:
He never complained.
It’s not just that he never complained about muscular dystrophy or being tired or about having to copy edit from his dorm room when icy sidewalks made it impossible for him to get to the newsroom. He never complained about anything.
That doesn’t mean Drew rolled around campus with a fake smile, blasting everyone with relentless, disingenuous cheer. In fact, nobody was more genuine. With Drew, you always knew his compliments were sincere and his insults were in jest.
It also doesn’t mean nothing ever bothered Drew. You can’t be genuine if you’re immune to all the yucky feelings like anger, annoyance, frustration, and sadness. Positivity isn’t a superpower, it’s a choice. In the chaos of a newsroom, when 20 other people had something negative to say, Drew became some kind of zen master. He didn’t yell, he didn’t panic, and he didn’t commiserate. Usually, he had a joke lined up to break the tension. Even if he couldn’t make things easier, he never made anyone’s life any harder.
So here’s the challenge.
To honor Drew’s memory, I’ll attempt to go the entirety of Oct. 1 without complaining. If you know me well, you’re already laughing. But I’m serious!
I have a, uh, gift for finding fault in just about everything, and I have the curse of vocalizing my thoughts before my brain has time to filter them. That means I complain a lot, often without realizing it and sometimes about things that don’t even really bother me.
I’m prepared to fail, and I’m counting on my friends, family and coworkers to keep me honest. And for each time I inevitably slip up, I’m donating $1 to the Drew Anderson Memorial Fund, which The Kansan’s faculty adviser Malcolm Gibson set up last year through the KU Endowment Association.
Could you go a day without complaining? I’m challenging everyone who comes across this post to spend Oct. 1 imitating the attitude Drew managed to present on a daily basis. And, as a chronic whiner, I may need some support.