The James Luti Story
Close your eyes, and picture a person. The pretty and popular kid in high school, one who checks all of the superficial boxes with soft blue eyes, an intoxicating laugh, and confident charisma. They are an unstructured entertainer. They unconsciously find a joke in everything, potentially for the amusement of their peers, likely for the amusement of themselves. They seem to have limitless social energy, and find themselves at the center of attention as if by accident, their personality inviting admiration.
Now picture someone with an inability to get out of bed. The daily grind of school to sports to social media, maybe to homework, maybe to bed, is uninspiring to them. School and homework in particular trigger pain. A processing issue plagues every effort to learn, an anxiety disorder wreaks havoc on social life. The resulting self-hatred spirals this student into a prolonged depressed state. Growth means growing pains, and it’s hard for this person to see an end to the pain.
Now picture the kindest person you will ever meet, with the most genuine of hearts. Conversation with this person is so insanely fulfilling. The topics might range from sports to television to hardship and back again. This person makes you feel special. They make you feel heard. They make you feel like they’d give an arm and a leg for your well-being. They care about people so deeply, so quietly, and so consistently that you start to take them for granted.
Now picture every one of those people rolled into a single young man. James Luti was special from the very beginning. Home videos depict the smile and infectious joy that would come to define James. He was so easy to get along with, and he was indiscriminate with friend choice in his early life – his heart was so big. There seemed to be room for everyone. The “surprise” of the family, James was the youngest of three, with a brother and sister 5 and 7 years older than him respectively, and wow – what a gift that surprise turned out to be. With engaged and loving parents and older and wiser siblings, James matured quickly and willingly in an attempt to keep up. The result was the aforementioned popular, down-to-earth, and tormented high schooler.
In his seventh grade year, signs of academic difficulty began to emerge. It seemed out of nowhere, but he was at a charter school with a focus on academic rigor and equal treatment of students. It was not an ideal fit given his academic struggles, so he transferred to his local public school system expecting a lesser workload.
Still, the blow to his confidence of that seventh grade year was real. As eighth and ninth grade progressed, it became increasingly clear that it was not a lack of motivation or maturity that was causing James’s academic struggles. As his academic struggles continued, the path forward became less and less clear. In a world where education is constantly reiterated as the singular path to success, James failed to see his place. That initial hardship began to snowball. Think about it – if the world is telling you that you need school to succeed and that is something you are undeniably bad at, how can you feel like anything but a failure?
James’s confidence was at an all-time low. He had a processing issue – no wait, ADD – no wait, anxiety. He was diagnosed and re-diagnosed with mental health disorders, prescribed and re-prescribed drugs that were supposed to help. Sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn’t. Looking back, one fact is painfully clear – at this time, James so desperately wanted to function like his classmates, but was losing hope that he ever would.
The family made efforts with each passing year to start fresh. In ninth grade, the teachers weren’t made aware that there was an issue until later in the year. The year before that, no one even knew what was wrong. This year, James will get proper accommodation, he will be able to bounce back, things will change. He was running around and smiling during the summers. His friends were around, he was getting out of the house plenty, playing sports, and enjoying life. In a years-long stretch of academic struggle, the summers were an oasis of happiness.
In eighth and most of ninth grade, he only had to face his teachers’ disappointment, which was difficult enough. However, toward the end of ninth grade, James had made known his waning will to live as another difficult year had taken its toll on him. He was hospitalized in an effort to seek immediate help. The notion of losing him was too scary to brush it off. Unfortunately, in a small, interconnected New England town, everybody knows everybody, and word traveled to James’s classmates of his apparent crisis. The incident blew over, but the scarring was undeniable: James went out of his way to try to show everyone at school that he was totally fine, that they didn’t have to be afraid of him, that he was still the same old James.
The school year to his tenth grade year began, he had just turned 16, and he attended the first three days of school. Hope. On the fourth, James couldn’t get out of bed. Whether it was the reality of having to do that routine every weekday, whether his processing issue had caught up with him after 3 days of information, whether his social anxiety was wreaking havoc, or whether he just got a bad night’s sleep. James had grown to despise the attention of underperformance: frustrated parents, disappointed teachers, curious friends. It was hard to see him go through it. It made him so unbelievably anxious to think about how far behind he was getting, and so he avoided such thoughts as the work continued to mount and mount.
The family decided that homeschooling was the only viable alternative. Getting registered with the school system was imperative, however, for one of the few things that continued to bring James to life each day was ice hockey. He was talented, having made Stoneham Varsity ice hockey as a freshman the year prior, and you could see the passion that he played with. Hockey vitalized his soul, and in order for him to keep playing, the school needed to approve of the academic progress he was making at home. His academic struggles had obviously continued upon changing settings; it was not the location that made organized learning difficult for him.
A classic lose-lose situation. All the family wanted was for him to be happy. How could they help him obtain the most important source of his happiness if it required his perseverance through the biggest source of his grief? James tried to meet the expectations that were still being imposed despite his medical history and longstanding academic struggle. After months of struggle ended in an impulsive moment, logic betrayed James. He lost perspective and failed to realize that he didn’t have to be perfect by 16 years old. He lost hope that things would ever get better for him. His warped thinking irrationally prioritized the pain of the moment over the love that he gave and received and was capable of feeling. James failed to see just how much value he brought to the world, and so in that moment, he decided to leave it.
Hours later, the news had spread and the Luti house was packed with grieving individuals. People’s eyes had been opened to just how bad things had gotten right under their noses. Never again would they take their children’s health, their family’s safety, for granted. In the coming days, despite the reach, depth, and sharpness of collective grief, the people of Stoneham were forced to become more open, more loving, more communicative, and more devoted to ensuring a community of trust and support was cultivated. Having glimpsed the silver lining of the tragedy at hand and the power of the chord that James struck, a new mission emerged: The JL11Fund™.
Lovingly penned by Mitchell Luti, devoted brother to James, Executive Director of the JL11Fund