You know, it might be time to think about moving. Maybe that would save some pain from knowing too many people here who die on us.
Tough enough when it’s their time. All too much when it’s not.
I had this thought sitting in Eagle’s Catholic church, prayers and preaching all in Spanish between long silences, nearly everyone wearing at least some black. Next to me happened to be one of Rafa’s best friends, who was inconsolable.
I remembered losing a friend to a plane crash around this age and how there was nothing that could be said. This was a time to endure and then begin to treasure the memories of your friend. You don’t get the person back, only what he or she meant to you. Multiply that by many times and this is what Rafa’s family is going through. I wish there were magic words.
A basketball lay among the wreaths at his casket. His friend placed a jersey there, too. Fellas from the noon ball tribe came to the service to pay their respects.
Rafa was a little younger than my kids, who don’t remember knowing him. He played basketball for Battle Mountain. They went to Eagle Valley and played different sports, had different lives, although I’ll bet that they probably met him and I’m sure had some mutual friends. It’s a small valley, still.
How did I know him? Through basketball. He was a tallish lefty, around 6 feet 3 inches, who could hit threes and drive well. Overplay to his left was my best chance to defend him. Release was low and slow enough that you could go for a block or at least rush him if you stayed close, but he could go on long hot streaks. Nice Euro move while driving. On the same team, you could take risks passing to him — he could get to most balls and finish.
He was one of those who you love having on the same team and better try to not let shoot if you could help it while playing against him.
What mattered, though, was he was a great guy with a nice sense of humor. He always greeted me with a fist bump and a kind word. He competed hard, but even trash talking came with a smile and undertone of respect.
I’d tell him I was going to block his shot today. He’d laugh and welcome me to try. If we were on the same team, I always told him I was looking for him. I wanted to win, too. “My best shot is passing to you,” I’d say.
If we know people by how they play their sports, Rafa was among the best of a great bunch. I don’t mean talent or athleticism, but things like getting the most of what you do have, sportsmanship, competitive instinct, teamwork, that sort of thing.
He excelled by the character measures. And he was very patient with me, an old untalented sinner in this respect, known for playing aggressive and angry and who still hasn’t figured out at 50-something that the 20 year old he still channels is long gone and probably never was.
I didn’t realize until we’d finished noon ball last Friday that I did know someone in one of those rollovers last week, after all. Talking with our old-as-even-me reporter on that story, Randy Wyrick, we had thought we’d escaped with a poor stranger this time.
Instead, I’m sitting in the church, sifting through memories of another good soul taken from us all too soon and searching in vain for words that can’t exist in hopes of easing some of the pain for his friend next me.
Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 970-748-2920.