As friends and loved ones arrived at Louis Lowenthal's memorial celebration on Tuesday afternoon in Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium, a set of video clips ran continuously on the front projection screen.
On "The Louis Loop," the Stoneleigh resident and Towson High School freshman — who died last week at age 14 — was seen skipping rope, tossing a Chinese yo-yo into the air and goofing around on a webcam with his father.
Each time through, as the crowd grew to capacity, the chuckles grew louder.
His family could have shown pictures of Louis after successful swim meets, or standing atop mountains. Those were saved for later. Instead, the eclectic clips showed Louis focusing on a task, only to break out in his memorable smile the second that focus broke.
Speaking on behalf of Louis' family, his aunt, Barbara Lowenthal, described some of Louis' activities, including those tasks considered useless or time-squandering — she said the clips didn't show the half of it.
Louis memorized the first 90 digits of Pi. He collected snow globes, juggled, read cookbooks for relaxation. He played the viola and answered his Chinese exams in actual written Chinese.
He once kept his family hostage at a restaurant table as he painstakingly tried to balance a salt shaker on its edge in a pile of salt. He conducted impromptu at-home science experiments and researched how to become a member of Cirque du Soleil.
"We didn't realize then how much all the seemingly useless things were mirrors, reflecting so much of what was beautiful about Louis Lowenthal," his aunt said.
"We honor him and remember him best by remembering not only the broad outlines of his life — his kindness and humility, his determination and his wonderfully creative way of looking at the world — but also by remembering all of those useless, but beautiful, moments that we shared with him."
Louis died on Wednesday, Oct. 31, at Sinai Hospital, days after he was administered CPR on the pool deck at Meadowbrook following a Sunday morning swim practice with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.
His celebration of life on Tuesday afternoon left late-arriving guests lining the auditorium walls of a packed house.
Family, friends, classmates, swimming teammates, teachers, coaches and others came for the chance not to lament the abrupt end of a promising young life but, for one last time, to enjoy the things large and small that made Louis' promise so apparent.
During a musical interlude, noted local pianist Catherine Renggli played Beethoven's "Fur Elise," a piece that Louis had decided one day was his favorite classical selection ... and promptly learned to play on a week-long trip to his grandmother's house.
Dumbarton Middle School math teacher Mike Rudie, whose seventh-grade algebra class Louis joined just five weeks into his sixth-grade year, shared some of his colleagues' and his own memories of Louis, a student he said humbly excelled at his school work and left indelible impressions on everyone he encountered
Vaughn Parts, a friend and classmate, read Louis' own memoir, "Strokes to Span a Lifetime," an essay that won the county's middle school writing competition last spring.
But judging by the prevalence of NBAC jumpsuits and T-shirts and Stoneleigh Sharks shirts, Louis left an equally large impression on the swimming community.
George Kennedy, his Stoneleigh swim coach and head coach at Johns Hopkins University, said Louis' attitude was infectious among teammates. To Louis, even the tough practices were something to be relished — not regarded as "eating your vegetables."
Louis' NBAC coaches, Tom Himes and Solomon Sniad, recalled a young swimmer who worked to get better and was always the last one out of the pool — though he just as often could be seen trying to find out how many spins he could do in the water without touching the pool floor.
Kennedy said Louis was always willing to help out with Stoneleigh's young swimmers, who would flock to his lane when he was able to stay for their practice.
He told of a 5-year-old swimmer who asked one day how Louis got so fast; the young swimmer wanted to be like him.
Kennedy told the boy that Louis was fast because Louis was part fish and had fins.
To hear the boy's response — on an afternoon when Kennedy urged a thousand people to take Louis' compassion and happiness with them into the world —solidified why so many felt the need to celebrate a 14-year-old's life.
"I know that already," the boy answered. "We're all Sharks."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun