Of Rivers, Umbrellas, Life and Death

Meet Ron.

He lost his life – and might have saved mine.

I met Ron when he was hired on to handle government sales at the software company I worked at after I’d graduated college. We did a lot of sales roadtrips together, and I came to appreciate his philosophy toward life greatly.

My favorite Ron story: he brought an umbrella to work, every single day, rain or shine, and stood it in the corner of the office. I took this for extreme meteorological paranoia for months, until one day I happened to be leaving at the same time he was, and saw him open and shake the umbrella vigorously outside. On an eighty-degree day in Boulder without a cloud in the sky. One raised eyebrow pretty much asked my question, and so it was that he explained to me that the umbrella stood in the office to catch all the negativity that rained on him during the day (and many days, at that company, it poured). At the end of the day, he shook all the negativity out and went home to his wife a happy man.

I loved that. Borrowed it for a good long time – and I still make a point to stand an umbrella in my office on days I know are going to be bad.

Ron died of cancer a few years back, but before he did, he made a fairly surprising request of me. He wanted me to write his eulogy. I was taken aback at the request, in part because Ron had a pretty diverse circle of friends, including several published authors, and it would seem that he had a wealth of options – better writers than I who’d known him longer. But he was adamant that he wanted me to do it, so I did. What he told me at the time was that I was the best writer he knew – and gave me a meaningful look with that comment.

“I haven’t written anything yet,” I told him.

“Pity,” he said with a cough.

A master motivator to the end.

I’m thinking of him today because February is National Cancer Awareness Month, and while it might not have saved Ron’s life to get his own cancer diagnosed and treated earlier in his life, it might make a difference for you. Or someone you love. Maybe your husband; maybe your parent; maybe even your child. Cancer treatment is a simple equation of time and pressure; given enough time to apply that pressure to the disease, you can often make a difference. Sometimes that difference is life and death. Sometimes it’s an extra month to feel the wind in your face or, in Ron’s case, the spray of the ocean; that picture above, he told me, was the last time he ever made it onto a boat. He never knew when his last time on the water would be. This was it, right up there, captured in time.

For February, I’m donating the proceeds from Reswyt to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). Not the oft-mentioned ‘portion of the proceeds;’ THE PROCEEDS. Buy a copy of Reswyt, and love it for the rest of your days. Buy a copy and delete it immediately to make room for better books. Either way, your $0.99 is going to the AICR at the end of the month.

I can’t think of a better way to honor the man than to reprint the eulogy I delivered below. Some of you knew him; take a moment to remember and reflect. Many of you didn’t.

Meet Ron.

***

Ronald D. Smith

February 8, 1959 – January 17, 2007

Time is like a river made up of the events which happen, and a violent stream; for as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried away, and another comes in its place, and this will be carried away too.

marcus aurelius, meditations, book iv

Today a man without memory is remembered. His time in our world was too short, and while he himself is carried away, his friendships and his works are not. Today, Ronald Smith is gone. Tomorrow, Ronald Smith remains with everyone who ever knew him.

Ron once related a story that profoundly moved me. He told me that as a child, he was involved in an automobile accident that shattered his body and left him with no memory of his first eight years of life – robbed of some of life’s best memories by a simple act of fate. Ever since, he sought out information from his relatives about those years, and later, he spent a good deal of time and energy in causes devoted to children as his own way of recapturing them.

At the time he told me this, I was never so sure of something in my life: namely, that those years are now his again. I am excited for him today. I hope he enjoys every day of his childhood as it is returned to him.

We should each hope in the years we are given to live a life as full as Ron’s. I have spoken with friends, relatives, and colleagues of Ron, and each story I heard filled out and reinforced my own image of this exceptional man.

From his brother I heard of a time he spent with Ron, very early on in both young men’s lives, a time that might have been – should have been  – one of struggle and sorrow. Many of us have lived through such a time, when opportunity seems out of reach, when resources are scarce, when simply getting from one day to the next is a challenge. But Dexter recalls it as a good time – a time of simply living, of simply being – made easier through his brother’s grace and good humor.

From his wife I heard of a similar time, closer to the end of his life, a time that might have been – perhaps rightfully so – one of anger and grief. Few of us have faced what Ron faced, knowing that a visit with friends or family might be the last, that a walk on a favorite path or the feel of ocean spray on one’s face might not be repeated. But Aleks, too, recalls this as a good time, and so did Ron. He had, as he often said, his good days and his “other” days – but it is a certainty to say that the love of a good woman provided him many more of the former than the latter, and how amazingly fortunate Ron has been to have had her support. She had been a huge source of happiness and fortitude for him.

To quote one friend, “I would note that I have always found that no matter how many months went by, I always felt I could pick things up with Ron in our friendship where we left off. As much as I appreciated that, I guess I never realized until these past few months just how beautiful that is. It speaks to Ron’s generosity and constancy.”

I heard many more such stories, stories of grace, stories of courage, stories of character. We each took a gift from Ron – perhaps laughter when we needed it most, perhaps courage when our own failed, perhaps peace when the turbulence of life intruded too far upon us. But perhaps Ron’s greatest gift was his willingness to share his life with us, and we were all made the richer for it.  On his behalf, I ask one request of everyone that knew him. Ron would have taken great joy in knowing that his friends and his community celebrated him, rather than mourned him, on this day. Ron has been carried away from us by the river of time’s events; join with me in ensuring that his passionate love of life remains with us by celebrating this exceptional man today, and keeping him with us as the river flows by.

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