This is the text I read yesterday at Rob Wigsten’s Memorial Service. I will be writing more about Rob, and what he means to me; but for today, I wanted to get this post up.
One of the amazing little surprises I’ve had recently has been the number of people who’ve been drawn to this site by my simple mention of Rob, in the post I made just after his death. It’s another of the many ways Rob continues to help me. I can see him shrug if I had the chance to tell him about it, or about the number of people at his service, the sheer size and quality of the community that had this man at its core. I know I’ll have much more to say. For now, here’s this. I’ll be adding links to sites that are planned to honor him. I’m honored by my connection with him, and the way that seems to be continuing in this virtual world…
To write is to attempt to put words between ourselves and our own mortality. It is to affirm again and again that we have something to say, something worth hearing, and something worth keeping. Something that might outlast us and continue to reside in people’s minds, in people’s hearts, even after we are gone.
Rob taught me that. Not in so many words, although he did use so many words!
That’s part of the point. Rob liked to talk. There I said it! But he talked because, for him, life was interesting, full of import. He burst with life and had to share it. He did share his life through an outpouring of words.
This was a key understanding for me. To learn to love Rob, I – I think each of us has had to come to grips with this in our own way. Many people who talk a lot, do so out of ego. They like to hear their own voice, they don’t care a whit about what others may think or feel so long as they have a stage. Rob wasn’t like that. Not at all.
His exuberance might carry him along in an extended monologue, but at the slightest hint his listener might feel excluded, he would apologize and he would listen – really listen – at least until he could no longer contain his exuberance and off he’d go again!
There was something similar about his temper. Yes, Rob had a temper! But underlying his quick anger was a genuine and deeply felt humility. He wasn’t one to hold a grudge, and he was the first to laugh at himself, at his own foibles. Beneath his anger was an instinct for justice, an impatience with pretense and hypocrisy.
I can’t think of Rob, talk of Rob, without remembering the first time we met. Some of you know the story. There aren’t many people I can say I can picture precisely how I first saw them? For me there are very few and Rob was one.
We didn’t meet exactly, Rob marched into my life one day. His big, old, ratty truck, with Emma riding shotgun, pulled into my driveway and there he was! Everything I came to love about Rob was there in that first exchange. His decisive action, his generosity, his open nature, his expectation that if he extended his hand in friendship it would be reciprocated in-kind, or to-the-devil with you!
I needed a friend then, don’t we all? He didn’t know he was there to give me so much, he was just being Rob, looking for someone to have an adventure with. He had a cause, a burning desire to achieve something excellent.
We think of Rob as impulsive, but with this boat model project we shared he was patient, methodical and long-sighted. We took a year to prepare, and he accomplished his mission. He was always so proud of what we had done, and how his adversaries had been so thoroughly flummoxed that they had changed all their rules to defend their self-righteousness; giving Rob and me another victory, one we laughed over year after year.
Not enough years. How could they have been enough. Four years ago, I remember that day distinctly as well, Rob told us he was ill. He seemed to be taking it better than I did. The crisp, wintry air, my young friend, his young wife, his young family. How would any of us manage?
Over these last years Rob showed us. He faced his condition head-on. He worked steadily to stay as well as he could for as long as he could. He dealt with all that life sent his way and prepared for his family, pushing ahead the renovation of their home, dealing with the aftermath of his mother’s death, seeing his girls through those critical years of transition from childhood to becoming young women.
Was it enough? We all miss him, but I dare say I don’t feel cheated at this loss. Instead, I feel honored, and lucky, to have had the time together we did share. Grateful for the lessons in living, and dying, Rob has given me.
Rob wanted to write. He did write some, just before and after he got sick. It’s too bad he didn’t get to pursue it. But then, he did fulfill that goal of writing I mentioned at the start. He used words, and they wedged themselves firmly between him and his mortality. He won’t be forgotten. His words, and the spirit behind them, live on in our hearts, in our memories, in the way we will all go forward in our own lives, and hopefully, as we approach and face our own deaths.
I’m sad that Rob’s gone, but mostly I’m grateful I knew him. I think we all share that gratitude. It’s what I hope we all take with us as the best, most lasting, truest memorial for our friend, Rob Wigsten.