My friend Roger died on Sunday. He was the second of my beloved Rogers to die within the span of a year.
The first Roger was a scholar of William Blake. Also, apparently, a champion of barbecue. When I met him, he was long past both affectations. He was a crotchety old professor, about to retire. I was new on the faculty, and he took a shine to me. I was in the Religion department, he was in English. He reached out, asked me about my work, and befriended me with amused ferocity.
It was after I left Memphis that he started in earnest on his last life’s work. It was a series of five fantasy novels about long-haired vampires and some kind of aliens. Song of the Storm Rider, he called it. I have not read them, but I have admired the speed and gusto with which he completed them. Thousands of pages in the course of a couple of years. When the man wanted to write, he could write.
This first of my beloved Rogers retired from teaching. Almost immediately his doctor discovered an aggressive and pervasive cancer in his lungs. I mean, within just a couple weeks of retirement. Undaunted, Roger dove into his writing. He continued at a terrific pace for months and months.
Along with his vampire novels, Roger took time at several points each week to write an extended post on facebook. The subject of each one was, in a nutshell, “How to die.” He discussed the collapse of his strength and faculties. He waxed philosophical about mortality and finality. He creatively mis-spelled. The posts were a bittersweet read, but they were a consistent delight.
My second beloved Roger had no such time to refelct. As best as I can tell, his death this past weekend was sudden and unexpectd.
This second Roger was a sculptor. When I first knew him, in the mid-90s, he was working in wood. He would take these ponderous blocks or raw timber, the size of an old tree stump. He would bolt it into his lathe and spin it and shave it down to an object that existed between gnarled wildness and exquisite control. The balance was delightful to watch.
At some point, he and his wife moved to San Antonio. Roger began to work in stone as well as wood. Often, he would mix the two materials. The results were elemental and gorgeous. The natural and the living came in contact with the primal geometries of the circle and the line.
The first Roger, my professor friend, wrote to me. “Why R U so far away?” he asked. “Come visit.”
I wanted to. I was not able to. I also didn’t want to. I wanted an excuse not to make the trip to Memphis to see him. Maybe it makes no sense: I wish I had; I am glad I didn’t.
The second Roger, my sculptor friend, had memtioned on facebook a couple months back that he was coming to Chicago in the spring. We should get together. I was enthusiastic. I wanted to see my friend.
And then this.
One Roger departed with a lingering fade, like a well-planned ghost. The other Roger departed like the flip of a light switch.
My faith is such that I do believe I will see these friends again. We Christians call that “the Resurrection” – but maybe a better word for it is just “hope.”
I hope that unfinished conversations will continue. I hope that loss will someday become gain. I hope to see my friends again. I hope.