Posted by: Nancy | May 23, 2010

Thanks, Big Bob

I went to a memorial service this week for a young man, just 44, who died from ALS.

A son, husband, father, successful businessman, a rugby player. The service was overflowing, and speaker after speaker talked about how beloved he was.

It was profoundly sad — made nearly unbearable by all the funny photos of him clowning with his kids, grinning like mad, adoring them. The photos ran in a loop on a giant screen, continuously reminding us of his life.

I realized that I only knew part of him.

We had been acquaintances, tied by the rugby circle. But as an outsider to this theater, I only saw him from the sidelines. I thought he was loud and crude, and yes, funny in that rugby way — but not much more. I didn’t see him as the best athlete in the group, nor the smartest strategist. But he did bring the team together, usually with laughter. So I liked him but I didn’t get to know him well.

It wasn’t until much later, when he contracted the disease and decided to use his very existence for something larger, that I saw him from another perspective. And I wished I’d paid attention to him sooner.

He was in a wheelchair but not not relenting from fighting that f***ing disease as he called it — he was loud, lively and brash, still outspoken and sometimes crude. Since he couldn’t make an entrance quietly, he made everything larger than life. He was a spokesman for the cure, he was an advocate for stem cell research and he challenged everyone to help beat it.

Last September, he traveled to Aspen to watch his Kansas City Blues teammates at the annual rugby tournament there, easily one of the best events in this sport. The Blues have never missed a tournament and frequently win. This year, as always, every level of the club was gunning to beat the Gentlemen of Aspen.

He gave a little talk at the halftime of the game, over the loudspeakers, for the work that would lead to an ALS cure. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it wasn’t about him, it was about winning. It was emotional only for its bold statements of truth.

At the end of the final game, a rough battle, hard fought between the Blues and the Gentlemen, the entire Aspen team walked to the far corner of the pitch to shake his hand or give him a hug. It was an extraordinarily gracious gesture from a team of rugby warriors, brothers all.

It was larger than life, just like him. Full of courage, laughter, love.

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