Sitting in the magic circle, as people have done since time immemorial, we conjured him up– he is ʻoka manamana, hayaletadam, goseuteumaen, youlingren, gosotoman, home fantasma — our Ghostman, Roger Hobbs. This one-year anniversary of his death is merely a blip in time, a moment. But in the decision to come together, to engage in shared remembering, we honor Roger and the people who loved him. In sharing stories about Roger, we are reminded us of how precious are the people with whom we share the experience of being alive.
And how many precious stories there were. Roger’s friends were, of course, artists and creative people themselves. As we sat around the seminar table at Reed College, sharing stories and remembering together, the experience was spellbinding. After storytelling, we laughed at Roger’s jokes as we listened to “Not Another Divine Comedy!”, Roger’s award-winning one-act play featuring vocal performances by his friends Michael Callahan, Noah Brand, Adam Fuller and Chris Chavez.
We deepened our friendships and support over dinner, where we reflected on the impossible paradoxes of being a thinking, feeling human being in this messed-up world. And then we conjured up Roger’s playful alt-ness at his beloved Clinton Street showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, engaging in active audience talkback and delightful shadowcasting featuring Amber Luning. The next day, we visited Edgefield, the place where Roger died, looking for symbols in the landscape to guide us into the unknown future.
It has been simply impossible to realize that our family has survived 365 days without our “suit man.” How I miss Roger’s magnificent laugh! Still, we have gained in wisdom from the depth and breadth of this grief. I take comfort in the words of another talented playwright, storyteller and artist, one who also wrestled with addiction, Tennessee Williams, author of The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire, who wrote:
“The world is violent and mercurial — it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love — love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
— Naomi Shihab Nye