A Letter to Atta
Memphis 901 FC
Do you remember when I first walked in to that futsal locker room in Auckland? I do. I was sixteen. It wasn’t easy. All the new faces, new rules, new personalities. It takes time to adapt to those environments, especially when you’re young.
In retrospect though, you already knew.
That’s why you met me with a smile, introduced me to the group, and made me feel welcome.
Most people don’t do that, Atta. It takes someone rare to treat people with that kind of empathy. But that’s who you were.
You were just being you.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen you, my friend.
And ever since I heard the news, there’s something I’ve been struggling to shake.
I’ve been thinking about how one of the hardest parts of losing someone is that you rarely get the chance to say goodbye. At least not in the way that you would have liked. Lots of people experience this, I know, but it becomes so front and center in these moments of grief.
In a perfect world we would know, right? We would recognize the moment and would get the chance to say the things that too often go unspoken.
But the world’s not perfect, I suppose.
If my memory serves, the last time we saw each other was four years ago. When I think back to it, I can still see Wellington, and the futsal match, and hanging out with the boys, and the banter, and everyone smiling… but when I really dig deep, the details get fuzzy. It’s probably because at the time it just seemed like any other day. One of many that we would have shared over the years to come.
It wasn’t just any other day though, and now I wish I remembered it better.
But let me tell you what I do remember, Atta.
I remember your smile. Man, EVERYONE remembers your smile.
I was talking about you with some of our old friends and teammates this past weekend and in just about every memory, every story shared, someone mentioned that smile. It was part of you. Ever-present.
I also remember your passion.
You loved the game SO much. I remember you being the nicest guy in the world off-the-field, but when you stepped in-between those white lines, it was on. It was competition. It was fierce.
I remember you flying across the goal, throwing your body around. Our goalie, our last line of defense, willing to do whatever it took. You were selfless like that.
I also remember hearing the news.
First it was just that something bad had happened in Christchurch. Then more details came. There had been a shooting at a mosque. I called my family to make sure they were okay. They were. But you know how Christchurch is, Atta, it’s small and tight-knit. When something like this happens, the chances are you probably know someone involved.
Then I remember hearing that someone was you.
Let me preface this by saying that I don’t know what to call it, and I don’t pretend to know why it happened, but as I stood in the tunnel before the match on Saturday wearing a black armband in your honor, I just knew I was going to score. It wasn’t about me, or my team, it was just a feeling. I think maybe it was about you, and the others we lost that day. Maybe it was a way of saying goodbye. Of celebrating together one last time.
So, while I wish I could go back in time and say it to you in person, I want to thank you, Atta.
I want to thank you for being the person you were.
Thank you for being kind to that sixteen-year-old in the locker room years ago.
Thank you for your smile, and your passion.
Thank you for caring about people the way you did.
This world needs more people like you.
We need more Atta Elayyans.
You'll be missed, my friend.