Humility and Laughter:
It happened Sunday night/Monday morning. I got the e-mail from RenB around 1P, barely awake. Thrilled to see his ornery ass in my in-box after so long, but then flattened by the news. When he said, "Sit down, Jo," and I kept reading... whammo.
Richard "Raffles" Bodkin, aged 99 years & 9 months, had passed suddenly in the night. Hardly ever sick, survived World War II with only malaria, if you can say "only" about malaria, only hospitalized once in the years I'd known him, because he was 94 or 95 and still shoveling his own walk. Those New England Yankees, you know how ornery & independent that they are... He was such a ray of sunshine in my life, and if you take that sarcastically, shut the hell up. He really was a joy to know, and even though he'd been through and seen and experienced so much worse than I have whined & bitched about, lo, these many moons --- and he'd passed so many more moons --- he could easily have been bitter, vicious, your typical crotchety-oldy type, as he might've put it. But he wasn't. He took it all in stride. He wasn't an overly-tall man, but his stride must have passed acres.
He loved both his sons. When RenB left their small town in '72 for Europe, to escape the small-town-small-mindedness, cruelty, snotty remarks & hateful glares, he understood. He missed him terribly, every day, but he understood. It took this country several more decades to get over the public hysteria over homosexuality, and let's face it, we're still not there. Neither is all of Europe, either, mind you. They just don't tend to send Fred Phelps types to hate on anyone different from themselves, especially after you-know-who emerged from Austria. But Raffles, so nicknamed for being on the hand-me-down end of his family during the Depression (his clothing might've had ravels and patches, but they were clean, by damn!) --- our Raffles was decades ahead of a lot of this country. He loved his gay son before the funeral scene in Heathers. Accepted him, his lifelong love (well, Rene's life is far from over yet, so you never know, but it was several decades), just loved his son, completely. And when RenB's descriptions of me, maybe combined with a comment or ninety that I'd left on his blog, intrigued Raffles, René introduced us, and I gained a wonderful friend and almost an extra grandfather.
I could see the twinkle in his eye when he wrote to me, always cheeky, sweet, but full of it nonetheless. He saw the sturm und drang of my life and didn't often comment, back when I could still write worth a damn, but he was always there. And always on my side.
He was a verifiable war hero, transporting Army soldiers to beaches all over the South Pacific and undoubtedly seeing many of those young men mown down before their feet hit the beaches. He didn't talk about it, he certainly didn't brag, he was as reticent about his own feelings/life/upsets as any old Yankee (when I say that about him, it's damned well a compliment, as it is with all of my northern friends; as opposed, of course, to the post-Katrina carpetbaggers, etc.), but he loved meeting & keeping in touch with people on Facebook. That man had a sharp-as-a-saber brain, always inquisitive, always reaching out, always wanting to learn still more about the world. When he was in the S. Pacific, he didn't just "occupy," he made friends, he learned about the First Peoples of every island that he visited, even, apparently, found a great love in Australia, even though he didn't get to bring her home with him.
That's one thing that never changed about Raffles: his affection for the women. I teased him relentlessly about having cracked his pelvis chasing women, he countered that it was from rollerskating on a frozen sidewalk.
Whenever he appeared in my in-box, even long-after I let my blog die, whenever I heard from him, he brought smiles and love with him. Not in the least like a "dirty old man," and we all know plenty of those, don't we --- but just pure joy and gratitude for the life he woke up to ever day. Always funny, always comforting, always a steady friend. One of the best human beings whom I've had the privilege of knowing, and I know some pretty damned magnificent people, most of whom I've met here. There is much of him in René/RenB, even when Rene's heart is shattered in a million pieces or he goes to ground in pain & suffering for months. I'm a damned lucky woman to have known them both, and René had better stay on this planet for another 30 years, or I'll have to find a way of going over & kicking his ass if he ever tries to get sick or die. I've survived far too many good people, and if I hadn't known the amazing, highly-evolved men that I've known all of my life, but especially since the advent of teh innernet toobs --- I could easily have turned into a very different spinster than the one that I am. And it would have been my tremendous loss. If I had never met Raffles, the world would have held much less love and joy and laughter than it has. I so wish that all of y'all could have met him, that he'd hung out here more, because y'all would've fallen for him the way that I did. He was a truly unique human being, no matter what any nihilist says about human nature just churning out copies of the same assholes, day after day, who embody the lowest, most venal qualities of the human animal. Yes, there are plenty of those out there, hell, watch the nightly news anywhere. But there are also the wonderful people like I've been privileged to know because of World O'Crap, or Jesus' General, or other blogs/sites that shall remain nameless. Raffles was definitely one of the best.
Of course, when someone who has lived the adventures that he's had is gone, you feel empty, because of all of the questions that you never asked them, all of the things that you didn't know about them, about what they'd seen in the world, about what they'd learned in their lives. Big vacuum, especially when you're a narcissist like me, to know that I could have spent our time together talking about so much more important matters, could have learned so much from them. I hope that, as René recovers from both his losses in the past year, including that aforementioned love, that he'll tell me more stories about Raffles. Raffles will always be a part of my life, a part of me, and so many others, so many people who were privileged to have met & known this man. And we are damned lucky to have known him.