A close friend, Ruben Garza, passed away last night. He was 37.
To know Ruben was to love Ruben. You couldn’t love Ruben without loving life. He was, stated simply, in love with life and that love was infectious. Really infectious. I’m thinking Biosafety level 4 infectious. Vanessa is already in the process of writing a column about Ruben that describes him very well, so I’ll leave that type of article to her.
Ruben had been battling cancer for many years. I forget the number now, but think 10-15 years ballpark. Most of the time, the doctors kept it in check or it fell into remission. But, if you know how cancer treatments work, they basically poison you with the idea that it’ll kill the cancer before it’ll kill you. In his case, his liver became fed up and walked off the job. He learned of this on, what turned out to be, the last birthday he would celebrate this side of heaven.
Perhaps it is because he had the knowledge that he was dying for so long—I mean we are all dying—but Ruben no longer suffered from this sense of invincibility most of us have for most of our lives or had such time to process his own mortality that, in spite of knowing full-well that his body was out to get him, he became one of the most alive persons I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.
He’s a saint in my book. Not because he created some new theology or new way of living out your faith. Not because of his devotion to any religious practice. Not because of anything that would get him the title by the institutional church. But because his life serves as an inspiration for my own.
Just think, really think, if you lived your life, each day, to the fullest. No regrets. No looking back. In the car of life, you had the top down, the radio blaring, throttle wide open and living it.
If Ruben was fearful in the five or so years I’ve known him, he never let it show. If he was ever depressed, he masked it well. I’ve seen him elated, pissed, in love and hurt, but fearful or depressed, no.
I know we always tell grieving family and friends about how great the departed was or how impacted he or she was on our lives, or how we’re sure he and St. Peter are enjoying the view from heaven. I’m sure some of that is genuine, some of that is just what you say because you think it helps, some of that is just what you say because you don’t want to speak ill of the dead. While Ruben was far from perfect, this reflection on the Ruben-sized piece of my life is fully genuine.
I don’t mean we should imply that we should live imprudently and not prepare for the future. I don’t mean we should be careless. I mean we should be purposeful in the life we live and in the experiences we are to have, but do it fully. With all of the Steve Jobs’ quotes floating around after his death, also to cancer, one quote of Jobs stand out as related:
I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
This is what I mean. Some days, we can’t do “what we want”, but if it becomes everyday, we’re not living our own life. God didn’t sacrifice His Son for us so we could not live our own life.
Ruben lived his own life. He knew himself. He knew what he loved. He knew that, in the end, you need to do what you love and love what you do. You need to fully throw yourself into the life God gave you, build upon the gifts and talents given to you, use those and your skills to make the world just a little better. You don’t need glory or titles or honors on this side of heaven. You just need to be you.
When I look into the mirror, can I say that I know myself? Can I say that my days are doing what I love and loving what I do? Can I say that I can look back in 50 years, 25 years, 10 years, 1 year and not have regrets on the decisions I’ve made? Sometimes, I think yes and sometimes, I think no.
Ruben’s spirit of life will continue to live in the many, many folks he touched over the years. I have no doubt that God will allow him to speak to us, perhaps in a whisper or a flash of memory of his smile at the right times, to help us grab life with both hands and simply do what we were born to do. Sometimes God places particular people in our lives according to the masterful plan. I’ve known this to be true time and time again.
Near his birthday, when he learned of his ever-quickening race to the earthly finish line, his wife, Jen, asked his friends to send him something. It could have been a note, a scrapbook page, something, anything, that would let him know what he meant to us. I couldn’t do it, not right, not like this now. I put something together that was heart-felt but I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Part of living life without regrets is telling people who mean something to you that they mean something to you. I don’t recall what I said, but I do recall being paralyzed, unsure how to write a letter to a dying friend that celebrated his inspiration to me without making it sound like he already died. I couldn’t quite figure it out then, so here’s a go at it now:
And so, to my dear friend Ruben, thank you for living your life. Your friendship, while too short, has left a mark on my soul that is truly remarkable. Your sharing has given me an example of how to be ever-present, true to self and full of life. I pray that I remain close to your thoughts as you’ll never be far from mine. May the angels carry you home to your rest.