I met you on a particularly bright, particularly hot East Texas summer day. The kind of day that melds light and heat together to sear the lungs, squint the eyes, and blister the bare feet of running children. The kind of day that poses the question to the minds of East Texans young and old whether they live closer to heaven or hell.
It was 1981. You were an infant. I was six. I had the baby fever common to girls my age, that fierce urge to hold something and mother it and with it, the sad knowledge that the mommies of real babies don’t usually trust our kind to hold them.
But sometimes we asked anyway. Ryan, your mom said yes!
You were the first baby I ever held. I began with the rocking of you, careful, supervised.
You became a toddler, then, a windstorm of a child who could inflict more damage to himself and his surroundings than your holding girl ever could. You accumulated casts and stitches as some children collect rocks and caterpillars. It became a necessity, my holding you. I told myself and you this. You complied, and I held you till you grew big as me, and heavier.
My little boy: you. My first one. I credit all I know about mothering boys to you, my tiptoed one, my quiet one. From whom else would a girl among girls learn the secret languages of Transformers and Hobbits, Ninja Turtles and Masters of the Universe?
Astonishing, that you grew to be bigger than me. Astonishing, that we waded into the Texas gulf as laughing children and emerged as adults, shimmering and tall and sunburned, slick-stained with heartbreak and mortality. That we outlived the fishes and kittens and puppies of our childhoods, and all the rest of us: you.
You dreamed of clearer, bluer waters than our Gulf, more white sand than our sandbox could hold. Do you see them now? You dreamed of moving to New Zealand, making films in a land that God Himself wept for the beauty and the making of it. The land of Hobbitts and Magical Rings, Cowboys and Tattooed Aboriginals. The stuff of movies.
Astonishing, that we dared to believe that you’d live to grow gray in hair and beard, to see your own films at Cannes and Sundance, to marry a beautiful girl and become as good a father as you were a son, uncle, friend, brother.
Astonishing, the number and array of people whose lives you shined your light upon, so many of them here today. Your family, your friends, fellow artists and filmmakers, musicians, teachers, pastors, nurses, doctors, cancer survivors. Your friends, your amazing, wonderful friends…you have so many! To think that any of us ever worried that you, the sole boy in a house full of girls, the shy, intensely creative child who couldn’t sit still in class like the other kids, might grow up to be a kind of loner. Kind of…unpopular.
What a silly worry that was. Look at all of you here!
When I came to San Antonio last August for your benefit, Ryan, I got to meet so many of your friends and fellow artists. The refrain I heard over and over that evening was how talented you are. “The absolute best,” so many of them told me. “A genius,” I heard again and again. The popular consensus that night was that you could light the sun itself. That God said "Let There Be Light" and Ryan said, “Can I help?”
You were gifted. Now, in losing you, I’m reminded of a phrase from the eulogy of JFK Jr.: you had “every gift but length of years.”
You asked, as you were coming to terms with your disease, why God had given you such talent if you weren’t going to get to live long enough to use it fully. You knew you had more sets to light, more films to shoot, more art to create than you had time for.
Ryan, your instinct to create was so strong that had you lived to be ninety you wouldn’t have had time to finish your life’s work.
Your sister Alicia and I pondered this question late into the night last night. Why did God give you such talents if He wasn’t going to let you stay with us to fully realize them? Your talents, Ryan, your skill at lighting and set building, your artistry, your quick smile and thoroughly intelligent if not thoroughly odd, even macabre sense of humor—these talents opened your life to so many experiences and opened your life to so many friendships. Ryan, are you looking down right now? Look at all of us, each of us brought here today by our love for you, by our relationships with you. Look at all of us changed forever, for the better, for the knowing of you. Your talents, Ryan, they unleashed you into a circle of friends, into a community of creativity, that gave your life purpose, definition, and joy. Your talents allowed you to shine your lights on stages and movie sets and special events and especially, on each of us, no matter how briefly. And we are all better people for knowing you, Ryan, for being your childhood playmates, for being your friends in school, for working with you in theatre and film, for being a part of your living and dying.
Ryan, you lived and died intensely, with courage, with humor, with indomitable spirit and the clear, bright light of your being.
Shine on, Ryan. Shine on. You’re lighting a larger set now.
I hope your heaven looks just like New Zealand.