Repaying a debt of joy

By Bill Jordan

from-bill.jpgInsurance adjuster, X-ray technician, Hypnotherapist, Roger’s legion of friends knew him best as an affable host, always up for making whatever room he was in a better, happier place. So, it would be criminal ingratitude for me to repay a debt of joy with the currency of tears. Roger provided me many happy memories and I will repay him with the interest on that debt and in kind, but never have I found words so heavy than when I tried to lift sad ones to find the happy ones crushed beneath. So I’ll refer to this as a celebration since Roger would be appalled to find himself the cause of an unhappy gathering. He wouldn’t hesitate to remind any of us this is his party and everyone should be having fun. He’d also be asking why there isn’t an open bar, a dance floor, and shouldn’t there be more people here.

I’m not sure he knew middling adjectives

Roger Johnson possessed an audacious enthusiasm for life. Better, faster, more. I never saw his attention waver from living to the fullest every minute, always doing whatever could be done in a single day, and often more. All the things he did were experiences to be shared, breathed through other lips. Even the ones he did alone were so he could go to all his friends and say “You’ve got to try this! It’s amazing!” Few things were “Really good” or “Quite nice” to Roger. I’m not sure he knew middling adjectives. In Roger’s dictionary, the definition of adequate says See amazing. He flung his arms wide and said “Give it to me Life. All of it. I want everything you’ve got.”

This is a tragic moment for Roger’s parents, family, and friends. Our hearts go out to them at this time. It is a double tragedy for Debbie who was the sun around which Roger orbited. When they got together, Roger shook the firmament and redrew the constellation lines of many relationships. I confess I had my doubts, as did many others. Roger and Debbie’s relationship started with many handicaps, under trying circumstances … and Roger’s history made it a high-odds proposition.

…the triumph of love over experience…

So when Roger asked me to stand up at the wedding and speak as Best Man, Jan admonished me regularly to watch what I said. She needn’t have worried. I merely intended to raise my glass and point out what a horrible, obvious, god-provoking mistake they were making … by asking me to be Best Man. I also intended to say that their relationship was the triumph of love over experience, hope and happiness over history. It was the right decision.

A casual passer-by might conclude my praise of Roger is one-sided and lavish, that I am either quick to serious praise or that Roger was a saint. Let me assure you, neither of these things is remotely true. I am very even-handed with compliments. My wife Jan prefers to call me parsimonious, which I’m pretty sure means even-handed. So when I compliment Roger and say it was my great and good pleasure to be counted among his friends, to experience the warmth of his welcome, to laugh at the pleasure he tickled out of life, you can know I mean these things from my heart.

“If you’re skating on thin ice, you might as well dance”

As to whether Roger was a saint, well, he was certainly the most devilish saint, if so. Dancer on thin ice, muse, Kokopelli incarnate, but no saint. But rather than risk the slightest chance of Roger’s canonization, I’ll balance my words against the high praise I expect from others and act as devil’s advocate for this celebration by listing his flaws and defects of character.

He never grew up

  • He never did get the knack of dating. That seems to go almost without saying. His second dates usually ended with “I do” and a U-haul.
  • He was a provocateur. His innocent looks and “Who me” protestations never fooled anyone after he had fanned innocent sparks of conversation into social wildfires.
  • He drank to excess … but mostly vicariously. His mouth never consumed half of what his eyes did. He was happiest when others around him were happy. On the other hand, if Life were champagne, then he was the biggest drunkard I ever met.
  • On that subject, Wine and Money never grew old in his acquaintance. They were treated no better than his tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. To each he said: ‘Do your job and make room for the next batch.’
  • He was no intellectual highbrow, Mensa membership aside. At least not if you use the definition that a highbrow is someone who has found something more interesting than women.
  • He was a thief and a liar. He stole time to attend his parties, come over for dinner, or just sit and talk. He stole our base time and used his alchemy to make gold memories. And whenever he was asked for a favor he would reply “No problem” which I’m positive was often a lie.
  • Hypocrite: I’m certain now, in retrospect, that he only pretended to playful wickedness and was really an honorable and good person all along. I’m not sure I’ll forgive him for that.
  • He was a former Mormon, a Mensan, and a Mason appraisin’ for Jason. We have all been spared the completion of the most atrocious Dr. Seuss rhyme ever.
  • Perhaps the worst thing I can say about him is he never used a recipe. No one will be able to make his ad-hoc kitchen creations. This I know was done out of pure devilishness.

He never grew up. He was our Peter Pan, tramping off on trails of high adventure. The tick-tock clock in the alligator’s belly was not chasing him, but consumed his piratical enemies, the clock-watchers, leaving him dancing a happy jig. Roger was no saint. He was deeply flawed, and celebrated it. Our Peter Pan, Roger, left us all a trail of memories so that now we can always visit him in that Never-Neverland.


  1. Debbie

    I am truly amazed at how your words captured the pure essence of Roger. I often re-read your wonderful testimony to my Roger. Each time I do, it’s the closest I can get to actually being with him again.

  2. brian johnson

    Bill, thank you for writing and sharing your memories of Roger. I came across your words and memories yesterday with my son: We took an online IQ test (I was attempting to prove that I am undoubtedly smarter, and, thus, prove the illusion that all Dad’s are smarter than their kids). We looked up Mensa, found OC-Mensa, and then poof, here we are.

    Your thoughts and perspective bring us comfort …

    Here is the poem I read in 2003. In some ways it still seems as close as yesterday. Roger taught us through his living to “drink deep and never thirst.” And somehow he left us wanting more.



    How do we forgive our fathers?

    Maybe in a dream?
    Do we forgive our fathers for leaving us to often?
    Or forever, when we were little?
    Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage, or making us nervous
    because there never seemed to be any rage there at all?
    Do we forgive our fathers for marrying or not marrying our mothers?
    or for divorcing or not divorcing our mothers?
    And shall we forgive them for thier excesses of warmth or coldness?
    Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning, or shutting doors?
    for speaking thru walls, or never speaking, or never being silent?
    Do we forgive our fathers in our age, or in thiers?
    Or in thier deaths, saying it to them, or not saying it.
    If we forgive our fathers, what is left?

  3. oksana huntley

    Some years ago I undertook a hypnotherapy course and Roger Johnson was one of many lecturers who instructed our class. I felt an instant rapport with Roger. His vast experience and knowledge of hypnosis was impressive but it was his unassuming and down-to-earth manner and presentation which really impressed me. Today I was trying to contact him to book a session for my son to stop smoking as I felt he would feel instantly at east with Roger, but was dismayed to learn that he had passed away.
    Are any of his friends aware of a hypnotherapst whom Roger admired and would have recommended? It has to be someone whose technique is particularly successful with smoking addiction as my son has tried hypnosis in the past which proved to be unsuccessful. I live in the Hills District – (North-West Sydney. I know there are many therapists available but, because of my son’s previous experience, I need to find someone who comes highly recommended.

  4. Irene Haugen

    Roger worked for Dr. Maurer in Westminster CA. I was a nurse there and knew Roger as our X-Ray-tech. He was always fun to chat with when I had a few minutes free. He trained me in laboratory procedures and was ever so patient when I fumbled and could not get the hang of things. He was the BEST. He told me one Monday about his latest dare-devil adventure ~ Bungee jumping!!!! I could not believe his guts!!! Then he told me about the roller coaster in Vegas…. far above the Strip, and I got dizzy just thinking about it. Ah! yes, Roger had no fear and embraced life with such gusto. He brought us tomatoes once in a while and described to us how his vines grew up and over a fence and his crops lasted into the late months of each year. I had a few hypnosis sessions but could never get into that zone, so was not a good candidate, but we did refer a few patients to him for weight issues and smoking cessation. He was loved!!!!!
    Sorry Roger, we used to giggle at your long flowing hair!!!! It looks a lot better in the picture above 🙂
    Ciao Roger!!! Remember me, we were born just days apart in ’47!!! Irene. Rest in Peace friend,

  5. Deborah Ader-Sullivan

    It’s going on thirteen years now since my Roger left this Earthly plane, and yet sometimes it feels just like yesterday. What can I say that I or someone else hasn’t already said or thought about his death? We all miss him, and I know I will continue to miss him every single day of my life. I hope that wherever Roger is now, that he is cherished and happy and at peace, and most importantly, that he is leading a productive afterlife, because anyone who knew Roger when he was alive, knows that he will not be able to keep still, even in death. If there is gardening and bungee jumping and hypnotherapy in Heaven, Roger is the best one at all of these endeavors! As unfortunate and unexpected as Jan’s passing was, I am comforted in the knowledge that the two of you are soaking in a Heavenly hot tub together, drinking white wine and talking about your latest adventures. I miss you, baby.

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