Death makes heroes of us all. Seldom will an obituary read, “John Doe died last week. He had the morals of a weasel in heat and was as good looking as a sack of ears.” Rather, an obit will focus on the mundane particulars like age, birthplace, career and family. Often the deceased professional accomplishments will be cited along with a brief bio of jobs and schools attended.
What is nearly impossible to capture is a person’s essence, their demeanor and spirit. There are lots of PhDs, CEOs and successful overachievers in this world. In fact, it could be argued, that with hard work, intelligence (and a little good fortune) almost any American can achieve wonderful things. But, at least in my opinion, it is far easier to achieve wonderful things than it is to be a wonderful person.
I knew Rocket Regan fairly well for the first third of his life and, then again, for the last few years of that same life. When we reconnected, via the Internet, I was not surprised that his cheerful demeanor had changed little since our salad days of high school football. Over the last few years we exchanged a dozen or so emails catching up and reminiscing about old friends and times. In every exchange he would slip in some sort of compliment — sometimes in relation to what we were discussing — but also often almost as a non sequitur. In other words, he was simply waiting for an opportunity to be kind.
I found myself wracking my brain, thinking back and hoping that I was kind enough to him during our childhood and adolescence. If I had to describe him in three words back then, they would be “joyful, gentle, courageous.” If I were to describe myself, my three words would not be nearly so kind.
There were many who knew him better than I, but his greatest gifts and accomplishments were evident to even a casual friend. In a nutshell, Rocket was a nice guy, a sweet man, always upbeat and a pleasure to be around. That is what those who knew him well will remember him for. The fact that he was talented, intelligent and skilled at his job was only a fraction of the man.
MORE FITTING GAUGE
But I do think it is a mistake to measure a life by the years lived. A more fitting gauge would be the hours smiled, the depth of love experienced and the number of times you look to the heavens and say, “Thanks.”
Rocket and I played sports together beginning when we were still in our single digits. From little league baseball, church league basketball to high school football. His athletic assets — dedication, courage and enthusiasm — were more mental than physical. The name “Rocket” came from his lack of speed on the grid iron — according to legend — he once got passed by a glacier. He suffered the nickname in good spirits and always seemed to be smiling.
I’m sure Rocket’s obit will laud praises on his personal and professional achievements. He was an accomplished broadcaster in one of the most competitive markets on the planet. He was mentor to the unproven, a voice of experience in the newsroom. He was the guy who made those easily recognizable faces look intelligent and informed. He was both a marathoner and a Red Sox fan, both passions where mental toughness is required.
But the truth be told, seldom is someone adored for what they have done; they are loved for who they are; their compassion, empathy and contagious love of life.
After Rocket passed, my buddy Keith wrote me and said, “It’s begun, our friends are now dying of natural causes. He was such a sweet guy, this one really stings.”
Likewise many of those who Rocket and I grew up with lamented over the tragedy of our friend’s early passing. I think what was on a lot of our minds was “if Rocket could go, was any of us safe?” In the old days, 60 years was a fairly long life, now it is considered an early death. But I do think it is a mistake to measure a life by the years lived. A more fitting gauge would be the hours smiled, the depth of love experienced and the number of times you look to the heavens and say, “Thanks.”
Rocket and I were almost the exact same age. It would be easy to focus on the unfairness that he was cursed passing so young while those of us left behind are blessed (so far) with good health. But if you gauge a life by the amount of delight, love and kindness you have enjoyed and shared, then a life can’t be measured in years alone. By that measurement, Rocket Regan in fact came out way ahead. Perhaps the only foot race he ever won ...
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.