Keynote Address for the Ricky Rodriguez Memorial Service
— By Don Irwin
[Editor's Note: This is the written speech, not a transcript.]
On behalf Ricky’s chosen personal family and close friends, I would like to welcome everyone to this memorial and thank you for attending.
My name is Don Irwin, and Ricky was my friend. Ricky’s wonderful wife, the love of his life, Elixcia, asked me to open this ceremony. I am humbled to be here today, to honor, celebrate and remember our friend Ricky, and to open this ceremony of rememberance on Elixcia’s behalf.
I am especially humbled, because of the group of remarkable people gathered here. Ricky would be honored, thankful, and happy to see everyone today.
This gathering is more than just a memorial; It is a celebration of the beauty of friendship, the beauty of love, the beauty of care, and the triumph of the human spirit in the face of tremendous adversity.
People who did not even meet Ricky personally, gave of themselves, gave of their time, gave of their money, gave of their expertise, but most importantly they gave of their heart to make this memorial possible. To everyone who did so, know that you have my thanks, respect, and appreciation.
My friend Ricky would want for me to live a long, meaningful, happy, decent, proud and loving life. I wish the same thing for myself. When I pass, though, I hope that I too am remembered by a group of people who are as warm, decent, and generous, as those who are gathered here today.
The circumstances of Ricky’s passing are very tragic and uncharacteristic of Ricky as a person. I owe it to the memory of my friend, Ricky, to say what I must on the issue of violence. I cannot condone acts of violence. Murder solves nothing and brings only more pain. Acts of violence against others or ourselves, are not the solution. I know that there are people here in the audience today, who live, proud, decent and loving lives, who may some years back may have been looking over banisters. I can’t say that I haven’t thought about it once, not recently. My feeling is that life does get better. In almost every circumstance, suicide is not only the wrong option, but it should never be considered as an option at all. My psych professor put it the best way I know how to put it and that is that, "Suicide is a permanent solution to what we almost always look back on as a temporary problem or circumstance." And when we look back we see that really was the situation.
If invited to attend another memorial, I will. But the Ricky that I knew, would want me to attend graduations. He would want me to attend birthdays celebrations. He would want me to attend weddings. He would want me to attend anniversaries. -- He would want me to attend celebrations of life – not remembrances of its untimely passing. When we start celebrating life, we see there is so much good that can be ours.
Ricky would want his memorial, this memorial, to be a celebration of life, not death. He would want his memorial to be a celebration of love, not hate. He would want his memorial to be a celebration of friendship, not estrangement. He would want his memorial to be a celebration of hope, not despair. He would want his memorial to be a celebration of the future that can be ours if we choose to do the hard and sometimes unfair work required to claim it, not a sad looking to a past which was not of our choosing. He would want his memorial to be a celebration of achievement, not abdication.
Ricky was a humble man. He never sought or relished attention, deference or respect. He understood that respect was earned. He was generous to a fault. I was alone with my thoughts wondering what we could do in this memorial to highlight that aspect of Ricky’s character. I only had to look at the man Ricky and some of his last wishes to know what he would have wanted.
Ricky died a sad death in great pain, but he was not the only one. Many of his friends, our friends, brothers of ours, sisters of ours, fathers of ours, childhood playmates of ours, died alone, at their own hand, in pain, and without a decent memorial.
The generosity of everyone present today, and many who are not present, has made this memorial possible and your attendance makes it meaningful. Ricky would not want this memorial for himself, and himself alone. He would want to share it with his friends and others who died and were not honored or remembered properly.
I look into this audience today and I see childhood friends of mine, children I sang and played with when I was a young child. I look at friends I have made recently and come to respect and love, we have something in common, -- the loss of people that are so very close to us in the same terrible way that we lost our friend Ricky. These friends from childhood are here to honor the memory of everything that was good in Ricky. But we must also honor the memory of their brothers, the memory of their sisters, the memory of their fathers and the memory of their friends. Ricky would want this.
Thank you, Elixcia, for the generosity of spirit you have demonstrated by opening this memorial up to the memory of our other close friends and loved ones who have fallen, and who we remember today along with your loving husband, our friend, Ricky.
Many of us grew up hearing constant lip service to love.
I don’t claim to understand love, where it comes from, what stuff its made of. But I know it when I see it. It moves me when I feel it. It inspires me when I experience it, and it humbles me when I learn of it.
We all learn to love in different ways. We build on our knowledge of love in our own way. I’m not sure that any two of us do it in exactly the same way.
Allow me to tell you how all of you have taught me about love.
When a young man needed a place to stay, you showed love by opening your home to him.
When a young man needed an adopted family, you showed love, you were that family to him.
When a man sought the dignity of earning a living through an honest trade, you showed love, you let him earn a living along side you.
When a young man who lost his sister was with you, you showed love, you behaved like a sister to that young man.
When there were young people whom you did not even know, but you knew of their pain, because some of it was your own, you knew of their lonliness because the same lonliness gripped you, you showed love, you provided a place for them to meet and know that they were not alone, but that you and others were with them.
When a young person, exhausted from working, studying and recovering from a past not of their choosing needed to know you believed in them, you showed love, you demonstrated support and faith to that student.
When your younger brothers and sisters were essentially orphaned, you showed love, you acted as their parents should have, provided support and pointed them towards a future that could be there own.
When a friend who had struggled their way through University when they hadn’t even received a decent grade-school education graduated, you showed love, you attended that friend’s graduation.
When you had a choice between standing on the sidelines or showing your face to the world to speak truthfully on behalf of those who can no longer speak for themselves, you showed love, you put yourself at risk on the behalf of others.
When a young widow asked for your solidarity, love, support and attendance, you showed love, you gave it freely and generously, at cost to yourself.
Thank you for teaching me about love, and thank you for being here today to remember our friend Ricky.
(... Go into the introduction of the speakers.)