Rob Reid, The Fondest of Farewells

Posted on May 1, 2015 by Blake Leath

A few weeks ago now, a young man named Rob Reid passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.  At his funeral the following Saturday, I got the impression that my own reaction was similar to others’: shock and temporary speechlessness.

I didn’t know Rob all that well; we’d participated in a few meetings together at church, I’d heard him preach, I’d had lunch with him once, and he was always very gracious and kind and respectful and complimentary and supremely inquisitive.  A curious mind, if you will, the sort that roils with energy, crackles with electricity and tosses and tumbles ideas and positions around like rocks in a dryer.  He was a great advocate for alternatives, and would have been a natural and fearless debate coach.

In short, after years of substance abuse followed by treatment, more than a dozen institutionalizations, sobriety, counseling, fatherhood, career change, theology, seminary, introspection, writing, authoring, speaking, preaching, proselytizing and what can only be described as personal and spiritual transformation, Rob had gotten his act together and his house and affairs and life in order.  Moreover, by sharing his story of addictive torment followed by peace and then steadfastly coming alongside others in distress, he positively impacted the lives of literally hundreds of broken men along the way, a dozen of whom spoke beside his casket with alternatingly booming and quiet voices, offering soliloquys and elegies and psalms and choppy stories made earnest when told by those whom I suspected had spent most of their lives on the back row, not the front.  Some wore suits, others torn jeans and sneakers and sunglasses and gold chains.

And they brought the house down.

They shared testimonies, they quoted scriptures, they paced like cornered tigers, they sweat until undulating beads dropped off their chins.  Some eulogizers read from worn and torn and crumpled pages of penciled notes, others from dog-eared bibles, and all spoke from the heart.  Nearly three hours later, as this assemblage of motley men and proudly tattooed women wound their ways back to the pews, the rapturous revival almost complete, we viewed a parting slideshow of photos that summarized Rob’s life as well as any can, images of his Disney daughter filling the screen while young choirboys from some YouTube recording sang like prophetic angels in a voluminously echo-y and stony sanctuary in Europe.

We departed, and hundreds of us—packed like sardines in a normally large enough facility—reverentially found our way outside and into the bright afternoon.

It had occurred to me beforehand that Rob’s life was the sort Johnny Cash, Don McLean or Billy Joel would have memorialized wonderfully in their early songwriting years...that Rob's potential might hang in the air forever and that his untimely and early death would evoke the ceaseless “Whys” and “What ifs” that linger and tarry in throats.  These are questions to which we’ll not receive sufficient answers in this lifetime, but I can assure you of this fact, for I know it in my bones: in his short time on earth, Rob poured an inexhaustible sum of energies onto the battlefield and somewhere, way on high from across canyons and mountaintops and misty crags, I detect a faint yet comforting whisper in the wind, something that sounds a lot like, “You did well, my good and faithful servant.”

Rob—through redemption—lived just long enough to see his self created anew, clearly better than it ever was, and his restoration illuminated the path for many more.  There is much in life that bewilders me, and I admit this freely, resting in the belief that Rob’s early suffering proved an indisputably necessary tax, a waypoint to peace for scores unseen.  Rob's restlessness, pacified eventually through his testing the bounds of a soul and the limits of love, somehow demanded that he explore, that he gnaw, that he lose all in order to gain all that matters. 

The pang of losing a passionate, vigorous, ebullient young father who had so clearly just begun his Second Act will reverberate in my own heart for quite some time, but I take solace knowing that on one spellbinding day in the spring of '15, several of us had the distinct privilege to watch what had heretofore been an oft battered and beleaguered soul become the strongest and most beautiful thread—weaving and tying and uniting an entire procession of individuals together, each of whom is a beneficiary of Rob's pricked fingers.  "Amazing Grace," indeed, for it was on that day, and most fully so, that Rob's spirit, perhaps leathery and scar-tissued from years of wandering and wondering, finally tore free from its chrysalis and bounced high on streams of warm air, straight past the sun.