He's here forever, but gone for now, succumbing to a sudden heart attack.
Excerpt from "Interiors: Getting to the End of the Line" by Tom Ryan
Maybe you’ve had that small
Spark of a sound, a person
Maybe yourself alone
Anxious, moving too fast
Beyond anticipation and trying
Getting to the end of the line
Without savoring, being in the line
In the present tense
Or whatever tense you chose
To express that line,
Memory perhaps, a past moment
That in this moment stirs you.
Col. Tom Ryan, U.S. Army Retired, would be just as at home with a foreign diplomat and military attaché’ as he would be with a traveling bass player or homeless person.
He's versatile that way.
He's that well-adjusted to who he is and carries tragedy and triumph and calamity and heartache, with the same even dignity. He's the type to respond instead of react.
He's got that caddy cornered sneer, under gleaming white stubble -- a winning sneer that's heroic, the kind that leads to a good opening weekend at the box office.
He's the type of guy that makes a woman say, "so, there are good men out there."
And he makes even the gruffest of men nod their heads in approval, followed by the words "he's a stand up guy."
He's the man you introduce to the folks, the man you consult in times of trouble, a person who listens with his eyes trained on you, reserving opinions and instead emitting a calming presence. You see, he doesn't just show up, he's present.
He's a writer, essayist, an artist of social interaction, an army man, a former pub owner, a citizen of the world, a community activist, a father and a mentor. He's the guy that when he passes away, it's all too soon.
He's here forever, but gone for now.
With this abrupt transition from the physical form, he's leaving his friends and family and those who knew him here in the KC area, shocked, saddened and dismayed, but most of all inspired.
Tom is known as a guy who loves music and art, is meticulous about artistic processes and heavily preoccupied with the craft of rewriting. In that vein, he might take issue with the use of present tense to describe him and his life and the impressions he leaves on people, now that he's physically gone. Then again he's the type that chuckles at all things. So maybe, just maybe, he'd shrug off my approach just this once.
Moreover, Tom would probably agree that writers writing about writers and how they write is probably a painstakingly boring thing to read about -- at best. And an exercise in pompous intellectual flagellation at, well… at best.
With that in mind, I could maybe riff on his time at West Point and subsequent army career, a great American tale if there ever was one. But I'll skip that because this isn't a eulogy as much as it is an introduction.
I could describe the mysterious nature of his post-military service and the "contracting" he did afterward that we always joked about. However, I'll refrain from that. He still hands friends in high places, both literally and figuratively.
Further still, I'm tempted to describe the way he looked at long-time partner Elaine McMillan, as if she was the only woman in the room or on earth. 'Nuff said, that speaks for itself.
I'm also compelled to convey the detail in which he cared, the way he helped people with any and everything, the enduringly-poignant questions he asked and posed publicly and privately. But even a multi-volume set of encyclopedias or a plethora of poetry and prose (he'd appreciate the blatantly transparent and unnecessary alliteration) couldn't and wouldn’t do it justice.
Suffice to say, you had to be there, you had to know him. And if you're meeting him for the first time, I'd like to introduce you to a guy you need to know, a man you'll get a kick out of talking to, a dear friend of mine who loved life and loved this swinging town called Kansas City.
If you knew him -- or shall I say, if you know him -- let us know what he meant. Or rather, what he means to you as we celebrate his life, instead of focusing on mourning his death.