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April 24, 2014 / Jon Ericson

Irrepressible hope

Yesterday was largely dedicated to visiting Mary Washington, Bob’s university. He had finished enough of his classwork that my parents will receive his degree in a couple of weeks. I keep thinking that the precise timing was pretty good, actually, as this is the last week of classes. So most students were still on campus, but they are certain to be dispersing soon.

Balloons for Bob

I’d never been to Bob’s school. I could see many of the attractions: There’s a sense of tradition without being overly traditional. A creek runs through the campus’ lovingly manicured lawns. Music and art and learning permeate as do fun and games. Bob and his friends spent many evenings in the Underground, which is half coffeehouse and half foodcourt. It’s close enough to home, but not so close that dorm living would seem wasteful. And it’s small enough that a person could know most of the school.

The university from the president and dean to his closest friends gathered at Ball Circle for moment of silence. A couple hundred students wrote notes and prayers on balloons that they released into the air. Wind caught them up and carried many into nearby trees. Popping balloons, sudden and surprising as firecrackers at New Years, cut through the tension. My dad called out, “They aren’t ready to leave.” But most drifted off to biodegrade (these were special ordered for the purpose) across the nearby countryside. A group chanted and shouted Bob’s name. Hugs and tears and condolences and quiet conversations ensued.

In the evening, his a cappella group, One Note Stand, performed their concert as planned. Before each number, one or two members told stories about their time with Bob. None of the stories were forced, each was different, and Bob would have blushed and smiled in appreciation. They presented us with his senior gift: a bucket full of fun (and somewhat bewildering) items and remembrances. The One Note hat was given to his girlfriend, Stephanie. The student government president and university president eulogized my brother. His rowing team presenting my parents with his blanket and a teammate spoke. Finally the cox from his freshman boat and his roommate reminisced about their time with their fast friend. (Bob had many people who considered him their best friend. Somehow, it seems Bob felt the same about each one.)

Michael Wang, his roommate of threeish years, was especially moving in his words, spoken from the heart, and seasoned with a certain grief and joy. Our family will treasure the portrait he painted for us. He became, in his goodness and flaws, a real person with us if only for a few minutes. My brother, Doug, had nothing left to add to the evening except our sincere thanks.

But the person who truly stole the show was Bob himself. Almost from the moment I heard the news, I wondered who would take his senior solo. Who would sing Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine? The simple, obvious and weighty answer: nobody. Or, if you are like me, a phantom voice that might have been Bob’s. In my imagination, he got through his solo, but not without some tears.


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