Death is a horizon and a horizon is only as far as one can see. Hoo-nōs
On June 7, 2018, Bob Galbreath passed away, just about the time that commencement had
wrapped up at the college where I teach. He was 94 and his passing had been expected, but
the “graduation” of his life left an imprint nonetheless—very much like his life itself.
I have little idea how long-ago Bob and I met, though it may be in the vicinity of 22 years.
Certainly, there were many who knew much more about Bob and for much longer than I did,
so my version of his life and passing is only one small perspective. I do remember how we
met, which involved Bob approaching me in a coffee shop having apparently been listening
to conversations I had been having. My guess, since he also brought it up at the time, was
that he also appreciated the “beautiful women” he had seen me with in that coffee shop
(Bob’s theater—and he had an active one—had apparently kicked in). This encounter says
at least two things about him: He loved good conversation (and was not immune to
eavesdropping, which he abhorred if others listened in on him) and he loved beautiful
Bob was an intelligent person and, like most of us, he could be unsettled by the
contradictions of living. And Bob, like most of us, also added to those contradictions of
living. He could and would drive people away. He could and would move towards people.
And he did and was all of the above in very dramatic fashion—there was little that was
subtle about his beliefs or his life.
Bob was a person who seemed to be mad at the world, yet I thought he was really mad
about the threat of exclusion, though he wielded that weapon on others often. He was
preemptive when he even had a hint that he was not being given his due. It was his
protection against the threat of being shunned, that most dastardly of human weapons.
Yet, Bob could laugh deeply and freely, a genuine laugh I think reflected another facet of his
being. And Bob was loved and Bob loved—the love of his life, his wife, died of cancer
when he was 56. That was and continued to be a difficult loss. Yet he knew that as alone as
he could feel, he had found respite from the storm. When that love, that respite, came over
him, he was clearly humbled as though he couldn’t believe his good fortune. Love and good
fortune did happen, Bob—despite your wounds, real and perceived, despite your own
attempts to distance others in protecting yourself.
I am not the guardian of either the Gates of Heaven or Hades, but I would raise my voice if any Gatekeeper spoke against Bob. Hell may bargain for company, but it seems to me heaven offers everything and asks for nothing. Bob may have acknowledged hell and questioned heaven, but I can’t imagine a heaven that wouldn’t know who Robert James Galbreath really was, even if Heaven’s beings had to remind him—somewhat gently I suspect.
And given that acceptance, somewhere I trust there is the sound of Bob’s laugh as loneliness and sorrow make their exit as they always sought, leaving love to flourish as it is wont to do.
You will be missed, Bob. Peace.