Chelsea Lynn Koch – A Memoriam

Eulogy Presented by Irene on September 14, 2005
at New Bridge Baptist Church in Woodfin, North Carolina

I am most honored to be here today, sharing with you my thoughts about an extraordinary young woman. When I was asked to give this eulogy, I honestly did not know where to begin. How can anyone possibly capture the brilliance, the hilarity, the profound mystery that was more at the heart, body and soul of Chelsea Koch than mere blood and bone?

Chelsea was the most unique child and young woman I have ever known, and it was my privilege to call her friend and, on occasion, a spirit child to my own soul. Chelsea defies explanation, and her loss, so devastating to her mother Marti, her father Eric, her sister Brittany, her extended family and godmother Sally, her friend Casey and countless other friends, fellow students, teachers and neighbors, cannot be easily explained. We know why we are here… we come together to share a grief that is unspeakable in its magnitude. I promise you, as a mother who lost a child also, your tears help this family. Combined, the tears of friends and community form a sea of sympathy that will keep this family afloat in the days and weeks and months to come. Your grief honors Chelsea and her beloved family.

But we are also gathered here today to celebrate Chelsea Koch, to remember her, and to be buoyed up by her inimitable, indefatigable spirit.

Chelsea was literally an A to Z kind of girl. In math alone, she was arithmetic and algebra to abstract argumentation over the value of and the impossibility of assigning any value to zero. In sciences, she was at ease discussing everything from astronomy to quantum theory and fractiles to zoology, and trying to keep up with her was like trying to fly alongside a comet.

How does one capture Chelsea's essence? She burned so brightly, her mind moved so perilously close to the speed of light itself, that the metaphor of stars was all that came to my mind. So I began attempting to describe this child of wonder by going where no doubt Chelsea herself might have lead me...

The Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, Astronomy and Spaceflight. Here I learned that "Stars that appear brightest in the night sky do so for one or both of two reasons. Either they are intrinsically very luminous or quite close to the Sun or both… Those … which lie furthest away, compensate for their remoteness by their extreme brilliance."

Well, if you can accept a very bright star as one metaphor for Chelsea, and the sun as a metaphor for God or Omniscience, then I would contend that Chelsea was both… intrinsically very luminous herself and quite close to the source of all luminescence and creativity. Simply put, Chelsea Koch was a child of God in the truest, most sublimely mysterious sense.

But I wasn't long satisfied with this metaphor of stars alone, for astral bodies and astronomy cover only the A's. So I went to Z and zero and tried my best to comprehend what it was that she found so exciting about nothing, nil, the place holder called zero. But for all my puzzling over information from the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics, I simply cannot grasp whatever it was Chelsea was trying to convey to me about zero and its role in the time continuum over an infinite horizon.

But this inquiry regarding zero led me to explore a few notions regarding infinity, another phenomenon Chelsea found fascinating. It is my personal bias perhaps, but here, I believe is where Chelsea rejoins her native land, in infinity. I have to read this because again, much is over my head:

The concept of infinity has tantalized and troubled humanity for a very long time, but perhaps the earliest references to the conundrum can be found in the paradoxes of the early Greek logician, Zeno of Elea, who was lived in the fifth century B.C. According to Webster's, "A paradox is a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true." Sounds a bit like Chelsea, doesn't it, defying common sense and yet perhaps more real, more absolute than our mere mortal assumptions?

Anyway, Zeno's paradoxes entail his theories of motion that are rooted in deep questions about the nature of time and space and infinity. About 2,000 years later, in the early 1600's, Galileo began to show signs of a modern attitude toward the infinite, when he proposed that "infinity should obey a different arithmetic than finite numbers." Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think Galileo was onto to something with this business of infinity, particularly in its relation to time and motion and the life of Chelsea Koch. She clearly obeyed a different arithmetic than most of us, followed a drumbeat that the rest of us cannot fathom.

Oh, I kept digging, though. Trying to grasp and put into words something that would give us all a glimpse, just the merest twinkle, of Chelsea's incandescence and the spark in her that dazzled us all. I grappled with such diverse and obscure concepts as backward induction and the Nash Equilibrium to the historic and intellectual theories of Buddhist logicians. But as with the finer, more distinct points of dialog with Chelsea, it was way beyond my reach and comprehension.

Perhaps yours, as well. So at last I turned to the lyrics of a song that had played in my head, over and over like a hit song that you hear being played on every station you tune in to. And it's fitting, I think, because we all know Chelsea's great love of the theatre, her stage presence and charisma and whatever it is that makes that kind of star a star of stage or screen. The song is from The Sound of Music, and I think most of you will be familiar with it. The setup is a gaggle of nuns trying to figure out how to handle, what to do with, Maria, and it begins with the line, "How do you solve a problem like Maria?"

I'm going to read the lyrics that follow that opening, and ask you to substitute Chelsea's name for the character Maria. See if these words don't sound as though they were written for our wonderfully talented, zany and unpredictable Chelsea...

When I'm with her I'm confused
Out of focus and bemused
And I never know exactly where I am
Unpredictable as weather
She's as flighty as a feather
She's a darling! She's a demon! She's a lamb!

She'd outpester any pest
Drive a hornet from its nest
She could throw a whirling dervish out of whirl
She is gentle! She is wild!
She's a riddle! She's a child!
She's a headache! She's an angel!
She's a girl!

How do you solve a problem like Chelsea?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find a word that means Chelsea?
A flibbertijibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! A clown!

Many a thing you know you'd like to tell her
Many a thing she ought to understand
But how do you make her stay
And listen to all you say
How do you keep a wave upon the sand?

Oh, how do you solve a problem like Chelsea?
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

Well, here the similarity ends, because Chelsea was no soft and silent moonbeam. She was and is a heavenly body whose brilliance outshines the moon, and the most we who are left in her wake can hope to beam back is that reflective light which, like the moon, gives us a glimmer of the sun.

One last tidbit I learned, by the way. The most intrinsically luminous stars are known are hypergiants. Chelsea Lynn Koch was a hypergiant to me. I will miss her greatly in the years to come, but I am ever so confident we'll all see her again. I'll close this tribute to her by suggesting that in the meanwhile, between the here and hereafter, in the illusion we call time, we might look for a glimmer of Chelsea in the night sky, hear her in the laughter of strangers, and hold her forever in our hearts.

Chelsea's Photography from 2003

"Sun Through Clouds"

"Tiger Lily"

"Welcome to Paradise"

"Morning Glorious"

"Yellow Flower for You"

"Between Pines Lies a Rainbow"

"My What a Full Moon"