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.