Me and John Stewart.

I’m seven years old. The year is 2001. The date is, well, you know what it is. I come home. At the time me and my parents were living in […]

I’m seven years old. The year is 2001. The date is, well, you know what it is.

I come home. At the time me and my parents were living in a dingy mid-town apartment in Barranquilla, Colombia. I just came back from school. I literally don’t remember anything else about that day. Other than my parents and my grandmother, huddled in front of the TV. They were watching two planes crash into two gigantic towers of steel. I thought this was a movie. I ignored it. I went to bed early, tired and didn’t ask any questions. The next day, I hear all about it and I feel mildly dumb for assuming it was a movie.

What you need to understand is that these events were incredibly unreal to me. Not even in my wildest dreams could I imagine the US being subject to such a destructive terrorist attack. To us, the US was the haven. The endgoal. The dream. You know that story. You’ve heard it thousands of times. We heard it millions.

***

I’m fourteen years old. The year is 2008.

I have started watching The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. It is the international version. You see, Comedy Central thought it’d be a good idea to have The Daily Show heavily edited to a 40 minutes cut with the week’s highlights. The reasoning being that international audiences were not interested in the minutiae of American culture and politics, so the International Version would provide a wide picture at the most relevant topics outside of America. Not inaccurate, but not true of me, anyhow.

I felt like I wasn’t getting the whole picture. I needed to understand American culture (I was fourteen, young and really wanted to make movies and I was ridiculously ignorant about anything relating to the words “international” and “film”. Still am, in fact) and obviously, I won’t claim that Jon taught me or made me an expert. But that was the main motivation for me to look up old Daily Show clips. I stumbled upon a certain clip of him talking about the events of 9/11. You know this speech. We all know this speech.

That’s when I understood Jon Stewart wasn’t just a stand-up comic with impeccable timing and a murderer’s row of writers. Jon Stewart was also a human being. Someone whose beliefs informed the show at its finest. A talented man who was willing to work hard so that every night, for half an hour, people all over America (and eventually, the world) would understand that they were not insane. That something is wrong. The people in power simply do not give a fuck and let the crazies and the hucksters take advantage of the uneducated and the ignorant who have plenty of legitimate reasons to be enraged and use their rage to advance their own political agendas. That the men and women in congress are not always looking out for us. He taught me to distrust and question at every turn. An skill that, to this day, is essential to daily life, I believe

He also taught me that if that night was haunting to me, it was outright terrifying to every American. He taught me what it was like to grieve what many thought was their own security. Something that during my early years on this Earth, I both took for granted and assumed to be dead in equals measures, thanks to the political situation of my country and the fluctuating status of my parents’ livelihood.

***

The year is 2015. I am 21 years old. It is my birthday.

Jon Stewart announced his retirement from the Daily Show approximately 18 hours ago. A friend tells me in the middle of my shift. I stare at my screen in disbelief and then I stare at her in even more disbelief. My stare is mirrored. We simply can’t believe that we will live in a world where Jon Stewart will retire from the Daily Show. It was not surprising to anyone who had heard him talk during his Rosewater press tour. But the sheer unreality is still overwhelming. Changes to our lives’ status quo tend to be, regardless of how much foresight we have.

Full disclosure, it has been a long time since I watched the Daily Show regularly. Immediately after I watch Larry Wilmore thank Jon Stewart for everything, Hulu loads an episode of the Daily Show for me. Usually I skip it because I just no longer enjoyed it. Considering what I learned just hours ago, however, I could not resist.

It is perhaps most fitting that Jon decided to do an extended interview segment with David Axelrod, one of Obama’s political advisors, who was promoting his own memoir. During this interview, Stewart highlights Axelrod’s idealism and his belief that while the system is flawed, it is the way to get things done and to obtain progress. Axelrod paraphrases his epigram “The future is not a gift, it is an achievement” and mentions that he opposed Obama’s healthcare because it would not help him. However, Obama didn’t listen to him and, as he recalls, he went to his office and cried in gratitude, remembering his own struggles with healthcare and taking care of his sick daughter to the point of bankruptcy.

There’s something I didn’t mention about what Jon taught my 14 year old self when I was trawling through videos on YouTube. He taught me that the value of cynicism and questioning is absolutely nothing without idealism. That there’s no point in doing the work if you don’t believe in the work and that being distrustful, questioning and argumentative is work. And that the reason we believe in the work is because we hope, eventually, that enough people  listen to us and that together, we can improve on things. We like to create this narrative around doers and commentators. Doers are artists, politicians, the people who make things. Whereas commentators are just the people who react to the doers. We like to pretend that commentators are slacking, trailing on the coattails of the doers. But in actuality, commenting, explaining and understanding requires skills and discipline just as much as creating does. We also like our commentators to be Only Positive, to not “tear down but build up” instead. But that is not our job. Our job is to tear down and build up. We have to do both. The world is inhabited by people of all kinds and to not highlight both within each field is to be dishonest to this reality.

Jon Stewart taught me the value of an skeptic mind, an idealistic heart and bruised and beaten hands. He taught me to worry about tomorrow everyday, not because we are doomed, but because we might not be finished if we all worried and worked together. He taught me that there’s hope and improvement all around us everyday. He taught me that there are people who are not interested in letting those things last. And he taught me that it is all so important it’s our duty to laugh about it. During these 16 years, Jon Stewart has been nothing but a comedy giant and he has earned his place on our memories through nothing but hard work, passion and skill. Wherever he goes after this, it’s clear we will all pay attention, but this is definitely an era I will miss dearly.

Thanks for everything, Jon.