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Monday, September 20, 2010

The Life and Death of One Good Man

This past weekend I gathered with some of my dearest friends I have to attend the Tunbridge fair and the small town of Tunbridge VT. I started going five years ago, though many of my friends had been going for years.

Four years ago it was an especially important fair, though at the time, none of us knew it. It was the last time a very dear friend to us, Rob, would be with his friends. I was so blessed that after losing touch with him for sometime I really got to spend some quality time with him that weekend, it was amazingly special to me at the time, then hearing that he died just a few hours after I had been with made it all the more tragic…and magical.

For months after his death I listened to this song several times a day.

When I Get Where I'm Going by Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton

Rob was a military man, an outdoorsman, a man devoted to his parents and sisters and brothers, a good friend, and a man of deep passion and love. He had a deep hearty laugh and a strong firm hug. His death was sudden and completely unexpected. It really impacted this small group of gay men in VT who loved him dearly.

Rob lived a full and rich life with close family and good friends, but, like many gay men of the boomer generation, couldn’t bring his worlds together and lived closeted deeply divided life. His life ended somewhat accidentally, but the closet killed him as surely as if someone had killed him with gun. I know it has forever made me think of all the closet doors that are closed so tightly, of the scores of men and women around the world barricaded behind high walls that are built with the bricks of depression, alcohol and drugs. If you want to read the whole story, see the book Injustice and the Care of Souls: Taking Oppression Seriously in Pastoral Care by Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook and Karen Montagno, I wrote chapter 19 on pastoral care with gay men and I used pieces of the story of Rob’s life and death to talk about the many issues gay men face and about the issues pastors and counselors should take into account if they really want to help us.

Personally, his death is perhaps one of the single hardest things I have ever been through. I would say it took my most of a year to feel like myself again, though after the first few weeks were over I hid the depth of feelings I was experiencing from most of the people around me. Few of my friends or family heard me talk about Rob even though I had known him for many years before he died. Perhaps the closet he lived into blended into our relationship too. I know that closet door kept us like two ends of a rubber band, stretching far apart and snapping back together over and over again over many years.

I can’t completely explain why his death hit me so hard and frankly I don’t want to. Sometimes, when we try to explain everything, we rob the experience of its authenticity and power. When we reduce something down to an “explanation” rather feel the experience of it, something is lost.  If you have ever taken a seashell or a rock home from a beach you know what I mean. It is never as wonderful and beautiful as it was on the beach.

I know that his loss, the loss of this kind, good man, very fundamentally changed me and how I think and feel. His death happened right as I entered my 40’s, at a time when many of us begin to realize that we are around the mid point of our lives, the place where there are as many years behind us as head of us. Seeing him again after a long separation, only to lose him in a matter of hours was a hard reminder of how fragile hope, love and life is for us all.

I learned many lessons through the experience of knowing, loving and losing Rob, but rather than try to sum it up, I hope some of what I have posted here tells more of the story.

The End of Summer (for Rob) by Chris Medeiros
The end of summer approaches.
The days grow shorter, the air cooler.
The bears know the long winter is coming, and they play in the September sun, relishing in the dwindling days of sunlight, celebrating the sheer joy of time with friends before the long winter’s sleep.
The leaves know too, they explode with their brightest and most beautiful faces before they brown and the fall away.
The September clouds grow and cover more and more of the once summer…now fall… indigo sky.
We celebrated the last gasp of summer together, never imagining….
I knew about the shorter days, the cooler air, bright falling leaves, and the growing clouds, but I didn’t know the how much the fall wind would take…
Winter is not yet here, yet there seems no warmth anywhere,
The nights are cold,
In mourning, even the thickest wool blankets feel threadbare against my skin.
Winter will come and be colder without you.
It is so hard to believe there can ever be spring…and yet….spring will come

As the calendar marches on and the winter clouds will thin and float away
When the spring sun melts the ice and warms the cold earth and I will remember how you could melt my blues and grays away with a look, a smile, a hug
When I feel the warm breeze will remember your open heart
I will feel spring again
I will remember you
I will smile
But in my heart,
Even on the clearest spring day,
The sky will never be as blue as your eyes.

From Rob’s Memorial at the home of Ivan and Mongo, South Royalton, VT October 1, 2006
I first met Rob several years ago in Provincetown. We had an instant rapport. I just couldn’t resist that easy smile and that natural charm. From the first words over fours ago in Ptown to the last goodbye in the living room of this house hours before he passed away, Rob was in my heart.  For so many reasons, we fell in and out of touch over the the many years we knew one another. We often went for months, without seeing each then somehow magically, the universe would snap us back into each other’s lives again and again.

I feel blessed that on the last weekend of his life, we found other again and got to see all the wonderful changes in him as he came back home to Vermont. Rob was home, happy and the most comfortable in his own skin I have seen. Neither of us realized how short that reunion would be.

I am so grateful to have had Rob in my life, he taught me so many things. Rob had a way of being so real and so down earth, in a way doesn't come easily to everyone. Rob reminded me that basic simple things, like good friends, good food, strongly laughter and sitting in the sun can be the most joyful things in the world. Rob took me camping for the first time I have ever been and I learned the bliss of listening to birds, walking in the woods, feeling the breeze and just being with someone you care about, doing nothing in particular.
Rob had few expectations of people, yet gave to the people cared about with an open heart. Rob was not always a big talker, especially about his feelings, but he taught me that you can communicate more genuine love with smile, a hug and most importantly the way you live your life and any words can ever express.
To say I loved Rob is not enough. Rob was “home” to me, as warm, loving, familiar and natural a part of my life as anyone has ever been to me. If we are very lucky in this life, we encounter a few people, perhaps a handful, who we love and trust instantly, whose souls we recognize as bonded to our own, people who enter our hearts as fully and naturally as blood flows through our veins. Rob was always that for me. Rob and I were lucky to have a home in our dear friend here Ivan as well.

All of us are so lucky to have Rob in our lives in some many ways we did, our friend, our brother.  There were many homes for Rob.

The “home” Rob came from and maintained in relationship with his family. People as good and decent as Rob don’t just appear out of nowhere, they come from love. Anyone who knew Rob at all knew his deep love for his family. Perhaps his own personal demons kept him from sharing parts of his life with those he loved, but in no way did that ever altered the depth of his love and commitment to his family. From his family, Rob developed his hard working nature, integrity, strength of character and generosity. All of these things drew wonderful people around him all of his life.

The other major home for Rob was his family of friends, especially those that gathered around this place. Ivan and Mongo, created this place of love and that is and has been home in some way to many of us.  All of Rob’s friends helped him, through simple the act of friendship, to come to love and accept himself more and more. When will all lost that remarkable man, he had changed. He was miles from Rob I met in Provincetown, who was always figuratively and literally looking over his shoulder. During his last few days on earth, Rob was laughing and celebrating with dear friends in this place, with people who he loved and who loved him very much. I hope that we all have the gift of our last days being so happy and filled with love.

The other for Rob home the natural and beauty of the trees, the forest, the sky, the wind, the place Rob's soul always lived and always will and that is where I will always look for him.

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