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Strangers on a Train

Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche ’16

Taliesin at his Reed graduation pictured with his father, mother, and sister Aurora Dachen.

By Randall S. Barton 

It was Friday, May 26, the first day of Ramadan, the holiest time of the year for Muslims. Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche ’16 was riding in a Portland MAX train when a man got on board and began harassing two teenage girls, one of whom was black and the other who wore a traditional Muslim hijab. As the man escalated his rant about how Muslims should die, Taliesin cut short his phone conversation with his aunt. He had to help the girls; the man was out of control. He and two other passengers stepped forward to intervene when the man, Jeremy Christian, pulled a knife from his pocket, and repeatedly slashed them before fleeing the train at the next station. He was later apprehended and charged with murder.

  Taliesin stumbled along the aisle, his face pale and his flannel shirt covered with blood. “I’m going to die,” he told a fellow passenger, Rachel Macy.

“We can handle this,” Macy said. “Lay down.” She crouched beside him as he lay on the floor of the train, and pulled off her tank top to stanch the blood from his wound. “You’re not alone,” she told him. “We’re here. What you did was total kindness. You’re such a beautiful man. I’m sorry the world is so cruel.” She prayed with him as he closed his eyes and tried to keep breathing.

As the lifeblood drained from his body, Taliesin had one last message. “Tell everyone on this train I love them,” he said.

Taliesin and one of the other men who intervened both died of their wounds. The third man survived.

News of the 23-year-old hero who lost his life standing up to intolerance circled the globe, and countless people who’d never met Taliesin realized that in some way, we were all on that train.

A week later, at a celebration of Taliesin’s life in Reed’s Cerf Amphitheatre, his father Christopher DuPraw, said, “I don’t know what you’ve heard about his passing, but he was completely blessed. I don’t know if he’d have completely pulled his remembrance all by himself, but there were a couple of angels on board, and they hung with him solid, and reminded him of his creator connection. He did come to remembrance and they helped him.”

Paula Sohl, a minister with the United Church of Christ in Ashland, Oregon, watched Taliesin grow from a feisty, friendly toddler into an accomplished and gifted young man. “Tilly was peaceful, loving, brave, and honorable,” she said. “Smart, clever, always problem solving and always dreaming of a better world, he made people feel welcome and important, and his smile was as wide as his head.”

“Taliesin was born with magic,” said his mother, Asha Deliverance. He was named after the sixth-century Welsh bard and shaman Taliesin, which also means “shining brow” and is pronounced “tal ˈ j ɛ s ɪ n.” For his middle name, they bestowed a wizard’s name, Myrddin, which in Arthurian legend became Merlin. And then there’s his hyphenated last name. When Asha was pregnant with Taliesin, Christopher dreamed that his son was coming as a flame from the heavens. For the child’s last name, a Rinpoche gave them Namkai-Meche, which means “a flame from the sky.”

The incident on the MAX train was not the first time Taliesin had fearlessly faced danger. “In high school my brother was once attacked by a mountain lion that jumped on his sleeping bag while he was doing a solo backpacking trip,” said his sister, Kriya Krisnabai-Gitanjali ’14.  “He jumped up faster than humanly possible and screamed really loudly and it ran away. My mom made us hike with dogs after that.”

Taliesin was always a leader, encouraging his friends to join him on quests into the forested hills that surrounded the purple Victorian house he grew up in a block from Ashland’s Lithia Park.

“When we were kids, we used to swim in circles in the park’s fountain,” said his friend, Alex Landt. “The joy that we had, late at night, running around in the park. His gift is so fundamental: choose love in every moment.”

“He was the barometer you would use to judge what’s going on with your life,” said friend Zane Pindell, who met Taliesin in preschool. “Tilly was always doing something great.”

In high school, Taliesin entered the rigorous Stevenson School in Pebble Beach, California, where he was active in student council, sports, wilderness programs and the campus radio station. “He was such a unique young man, so mature,” said Justin Bates, his history teacher and soccer coach. “Even as a freshman he brought a worldly perspective. He didn’t just sit back in apathy when he heard something in class that rubbed him the wrong way. He saw wrongdoing on that train and decided to do something about it.”

By the time he started at Reed, Taliesin was committed to social justice issues. “His comments in class conveyed a deep intellect and passion about environmental issues,"said his adviser,  Prof.  Noelwah Netusil [economics 1990–], who worked with him on his thesis, Estimating Cross-Price Elasticities of Demand for Natural Gas and Electricity.  “He loved working with large and complex data, and was enthusiastic about his career as an environmental consultant.”

At Reed, Taliesin also took an introduction to Islam course with Prof. Kambiz GhaneaBassiri [religion 2002–] and wrote “Islam: A Religion of Peace,” an analysis of a panel discussion by two leaders of the Portland Muslim community sponsored by a local organization called Race Talks. “His final words carried the same resonance of purity and earnest desire as when he told me why he wanted to learn more about Islam,” Prof. GhaneaBassiri said. “He wanted to help counter the prejudices Muslims face in America today.

“I still remember where he sat in conference and the types of probing, intelligent questions I could anticipate him asking. He was thoughtful, humble, smart, inquisitive, and compassionate—a wonderful human being, as good as they come. And now he is a hero to me.”

Erika Hurth ’16 dated Taliesin for several years at Reed, and recalled when she first introduced herself to him. “He was standing in line waiting for ravioli at commons, his blond hair flopping over the brim of his Sherpa-lined sheep coat. I didn’t even like ravioli, but I liked him a lot. Maybe it was the beard, or the early ’90s black Mercedes that always smelled mysteriously like patchouli and incense. … Standing in that line I knew that I was about to introduce myself to an old, old soul. The funny thing about old souls is they aren’t meant to stick around this earth very long. They already know most of what they need to know. They’re just here to teach the rest of us fools how to go about living.”

Taliesin worked as summer intern at the Cadmus Group after his junior year at Reed. After graduating, he rejoined Cadmus as a fulltime analyst, and applied the economics and cognitive skills he had learned at Reed to the evaluation of government and utility energy efficiency policies and programs. Jim Stewart of the Cadmus Group was Taliesin’s supervisor and also served as an adviser during his senior thesis. “Taliesin was an outstanding analyst, bright, hardworking and curious, and he was proud to have a part in helping the world address the problem of climate change,” Stewart said.

In addition to his parents, Taliesin is survived by his siblings: Chris Lejeune, Melita Charan, Ati Nasiah, Elias Decristo, Indeara St. Clair, Vajra Alaya Maitreya, Kriya Krisnabai-Gitanjali ’14 , and Aurora Dachen.

“Last week my son transmuted into a thousand-armed Hindu god,” Christopher DePraw said at the celebration of life. “I swear it happened just like this. Thank you guys for going for it and continuing to go for it, because that’s what I’m talking about with him now having a thousand arms, because that’s what you’re doing. That’s a lot of arms and heads. I’m thinking we might get somewhere.”

In the wake of the tragedy, members of the Reed community chose to create a scholarship fund to honor Taliesin’s life and create a legacy of generosity for future Reedies. To make a gift in his memory, please follow this link and indicate th Taliesin Scholarship in the notes section.

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