Saya Tomioka and her college sweetheart Griffin shared a beautiful summer night in New York City. They laughed at “The Book of Mormon,” haggled for “the most disappointing” pretzel they’d ever eaten and strolled around the city and into Times Square.
Saya wrote, “I can still feel the rush of life from that very moment. The lights filled my heart with excitement; the massive number of people energized every fiber of my being. And right beside me was my best friend, my brightest love.”
As they munched on the terrible pretzel, holding hands and absorbing the energy of the city, Saya was overcome with emotion: “…the city was so beautiful and amidst all the lights, I got to look at the brightest light of all, my sweetie. I cried, and we kissed.”
In that moment, a Times Square photographer snapped a photo of the two lovers. He showed them the photo and disappeared.
A year and a half later, the lovers became victims of the tragedy of the Oakland warehouse fire which killed 36 people.
At the time the fire broke out, Saya and Griffin were miles apart; Saya was dancing in Vegas and Griffin was at a concert in Oakland. That’s when Saya learned that a fire was taking over the Ghost Ship warehouse, the very place where her love was watching a concert.
She waited in her hotel room, unable to move or sleep, desperately hoping Griffin wasn’t trapped inside and tortured by the possibility of a life without Griffin in it.
She wrote, “As the hours ticked by and the fire continued to burn, I kept wondering if you were thinking of me… I kept wondering if you were still here. I needed to find you, and I wrote to you that I WILL find you.”
The search for Griffin seemed to drag, hedging up memories mingled with hope. But finally, Griffin was found and identified. However, Saya didn’t feel settled, “I knew I was going to be the one to find you. I waited for you for another several days, juggling between moments of disbelief, emptiness, and our sweetest memories together. We finally found you 24 hours ago. I thought that I’d feel better when the waiting ended, but instead, I felt dissatisfied. I felt like I hadn’t found you—-yet.”
As Saya wrestled with her loss, she remembered that beautiful night in New York City and the photographer who had disappeared with a piece of her and her sweetheart.
On December 4th, Saya pleaded for help finding the photo taken by a stranger that night in New York City, “Maybe some Facebook miracle could happen… I need some light right now… I need a reminder of the brightest light of all-love.“
Friends, families and strangers rallied to help Saya find the photo of that beautiful moment. In less than a week, the photographer answered her plea for a miracle.
The photographer, Arken Avan, posts romantic photos of couples on Instagram. When he heard Saya’s story, he went through his archive of over 200,000 photos to find the immortalized moment of Saya and Griffin from over a year ago. He said, “I can give her this picture as a memory of her love of Griffin and I hope that she’ll keep that for forever.”
When she saw the photo, Saya responded: “I’ve finally found you…I am at peace. I loved you openly and endlessly from the moment I laid my eyes on you on my first day at UC Berkley as a freshman. I have no regrets, no question that you ever doubted my love for you. Sweetie, I know that you loved me just the same. Your love for me echos through all the support I have been receiving from our friends and family. I am surrounded by the most beautiful, endless love from the people who love you. I will miss you desperately; everyone who knew you will miss you just as much. Your light touched so so so many people, and you taught/will continue to teach us to live our lives just as fully, youthfully and kindly as you did. I promise you that I will never stop dancing; I’ll dance even harder. I will never stop laughing; I’ll laugh even louder. I will never stop loving; I’ll love even prouder.“
Saya’s statement proves that real love can’t die. She still feels Griffin’s love through the people who loved him. What’s more, his life will continue to influence others. She proclaims that losing her sweetheart has not destroyed her, but has made her stronger. Loving makes us vulnerable to tragedy but this doesn’t mean that vulnerability breeds weakness. It’s power. The power to dance when it hurts, to laugh when your eyes are filled with tears and to love when your heart is broken. This shows that even when someone dies, their love lives on through our lives.