Eulogy for Rick “i love you” Johnson

“He was one who owned no common soul.” –William Wordsworth

I don’t think you ever knew my name, but I was going to be your wife. Our relationship was unusual, to say the least. I was a young(ish) law student, hurrying from the parking garage I could barely afford into my hellacious unpaid internship at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. You were a mid-50’s shade-tree M&M salesman on the street corner outside the Harris County Criminal Courthouse. But it was love.

Usually, I could hear you yelling as soon as I stepped onto the sidewalk on Franklin. “HAPPY WED-NS-DAY! ILOVEYAILOVEYAILOVEYAILOVEYA! WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBOR-HOOOOOD!” I still don’t understand how you never seemed to get hoarse. Your constant stream of well-wishes echoed throughout the streets, through crowds of people flocking to their court dates or their offices. Even though you stood with a cane, it didn’t seem to bother you to be on your feet all day. You boiled over with love and energy.

As I got closer to you, you would spot me and point with an umbrella. “HEY THERE, BEAUTIFUL! WILL YOU MARRRRRRRY ME???” I always accepted. “I’M THE HAPPIEST MAN IN THE WORLD!”

Oh, I admit. I wasn’t your only fiancée, not by a lot- but I liked to think that I was special. Once, you even offered to ferry me to my car on your back. Being a lady of somewhat…generous proportion, I declined, but I’ve always sort of regretted it.

The thing about the Harris County Criminal Courthouse is that a lot of people going there are having one of the worst days of their life. When I interned there, I often sat on the benches in front of the building and talked to the people who sat near me. One day, I shared a pack of Oreos with a woman who told me she had been there all morning watching her son’s felony drug trial. It was not going well, and she wept softly as she talked about how her son would probably never come home.   You looked over and saw her there, slumped over, her face in her hands. “DON’T CRY, YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL! I LOVE YOU! DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY!” You shouted from a few yards away. She laughed. She blushed. She sniffed and wiped her cheeks. She took a ragged breath. It’s ok. It’s ok. Fear cannot live where love is.

There is nothing more worthy in this world, dear friend, than to ease the suffering of our fellow human beings. Even if that decrease in suffering is only as much as a bag of M&M’s and a kind word might purchase. You did not care who it was, what they had done, or even how many times they had walked by you, dismissively, without acknowledging that you were there. Your love was selfless and complete and ferocious. You shouted your great love with your whole body all day every day (or at least 9 am to 2 pm, Monday through Friday). I have never met another person so charismatic, or a person who was so intensely good, in such a brief moment, at making every single passing stranger feel that they were really, truly special. You made me feel like someone saw me, singled out from the massive crowd.

I wasn’t there when someone noticed that you had been absent from your street corner. It wasn’t me who found out you had been diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. I didn’t organize the incredible effort among the lawyers in our courthouse community to help you, or the articles and news stories making you, in those final days, a local celebrity. I did not hold your shaking hands as you lay in your small apartment, confessing your fears and faith to the people who gathered in your bedroom, holding vigil and providing as much comfort as they could to you, a man who had been so generous with your joy for so many years. I cried when I read the stories: that you were afraid of dying alone in your sleep. That you had stopped eating. That you raised your frightened, tear-stained face from the pillow when a reporter came to your house and you rasped, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Please, please forgive me for not doing enough. I was undeserving of your love. We all were.

But oh, dear, sweet Rick, I hope you knew that the silence outside the courthouse will echo for all of us in these coming days. I hope you knew how grateful I was to have shared a moment with your bright spirit, to have been in the same space at the same time out of all of the spaces and all of the times that have been and could be. I hope you knew that I am richer for having known you, and that I will miss you. That we will all miss you. That the neighborhood will never be the same.