Last week an old friend, Dan Rogan, died after a challenging battle with cancer. I met Dan in Cleveland in 1992. I’d moved there after graduating from the University of Missouri and an “exit stage left” to Ohio when I realized that my degree in creative writing was certainly not going to yield much in the way of an immediate career. I moved in with another friend, enrolled in graduate school and began working as a bartender at restaurant in the bohemian neighborhood of Coventry, Cleveland Heights, where Dan was a waiter. We became fast friends. Everyone who met Dan became his fast friend. Dan was the larger than life character, the life of the party, the one with the quickest wit, quick to cheer you up, there to change whatever funk you were in kind of person. And if there are six degrees of separation between us all, when it comes to Dan, it’s likely to only be two or three. If you didn’t know Dan, the chances are very high that you know someone who did. There were tens of thousands of us.
My most poignant, personal story about Dan was that he was one of about 3 people who helped me move out of an apartment–and a relationship– in one single and very anxious afternoon. I’d been in a nightmare with this boyfriend for weeks and felt trapped, confused and overwhelmed. In a conversation that transpired the night before at the service bar of the restaurant where we worked, he very matter of factly said, “Stop crying. We’ll be over in the morning and we’ll move your shit out, girl.” And that’s exactly what he did. He was the guy to leave work to buy a greeting card for you if you were feeling down and remember your birthday with a nice pair of silver earrings. He could make you laugh even when you were in the crankiest of moods but he would be the first to tell you if your pants made your butt look fat–finally a friend who is actually honest about that little detail, you know?
He was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer earlier this year and the prognosis was less than a year. While I hadn’t seen Dan since 1999, when I left Ohio for New Jersey, we were lively Facebook friends and we chatted on the phone late last spring, a conversation which would be our last. We made tentative plans to meet up at the Jersey Shore over the summer that never came to be because Dan always had a million people who wanted to be with him and in NJ, it was his family–I knew this when we spoke but before we hung up I said, “You better call me, bitch!” To which he replied, “I will, bitch!”
Right now, Dan’s Facebook page is a testament to the kind of person he was. Every post relates a sweet or funny story, a fun time and a deep affection for this generous, loving and raucous friend to so many. There are a million pictures with his smiling face in them, hugging friends and carrying on at parties and celebrations over the years. He became a Cleveland bartending legend after I left but I count the few years I got to hang out with him as truly famous, at least in my life. My sympathies go out to his family and friends.
This week is Thanksgiving. Time for giving thanks. I’m thankful, not just for knowing Dan, but for knowing other people like him who have helped to write the stories on the pages of my Book of Life. I have had the privilege of meeting some of the most amazing people and have some of the best friends anyone could ever want. I don’t get to see or talk to all of them as much as I’d like to but I consider myself blessed beyond what I deserve when I think of these wonderful individuals.
Last week I talked about being present, about really being with your life and the people in it. This is what I will be thinking about this Thursday when I sit down to share a thanks-giving meal with a group of people I love. I will also be thinking about the kind of person I want to be–and want to be remembered as. Being kind and generous has always seemed easier to me than being frustrated, angry and vengeful but, of course, we are not always driven by the kind and easy versions of our selves, are we? This Thanksgiving, I will be thinking about what it means to truly live and, perhaps, live truly. And then, I will raise my glass and toast to my old friend, Dan, who is surely already livening up the party wherever he is now.
To learn more about Dan Rogan, you can read the great article that was published recently in Scene Magazine.
TRY THIS WEEK: Giving thanks.