My Tribute to Rick

There’s been a lot said about Rick since he passed. Hundreds and hundreds of tributes on blogs, tweets and Facebook. And his obituary was beautiful, so I won’t rehash most of that.
I’ve just been thinking about some of the many stories we shared over the years. And as I find blogging to be cathartic and a way to process life, I thought I would share some of them here.
-There was a time when we were in Vancouver and were both struggling to walk. We didn’t want to go all the way down to a light to get across a four-lane street as it would have zapped whatever energy we had. So we decided to jaywalk. We promised each other that if one of us fell, the other would stay standing in traffic until the other got up. Thankfully we didn’t have to test that commitment:)
– At one point I had to write a masters thesis in order to get my degree. My supervisor asked if Rick could be my second reader and I said absolutely yes. They read it and for me to defend it I had to buy them single malt scotch at a pub one night when we were in Ottawa. We met, I bought them scotch, I bought them more scotch, and then I went to the bathroom. When I got back I had my masters degree!
– He had a bunch of honorary PhD‘s which he shrugged off whenever you tried to complement him on it. I told him I was done rigorous schooling so would wait for my honorary doctorate as well so we could be doctor buddies.
– We both agreed that “Be thou my vision“ was the best hymn, if not the best song, ever written. Our only need for discussion after that was who recorded the best rendition of it.
– A group of us went to a pub one night. I ended up arguing black and blue some minor theological points with some other guys for the whole time we were there. When we got in the car afterwards he told me how shameful that was. He said he was embarrassed. That may have been the only time Rick showed his frustration towards me and I will never forget it. He was right. Thankfully in the latter years he had no recollection of it. Whew:)
– He taught a Tyndale seminary course on urban ministry. It was one of the best courses I have ever taken. In ensuing years he invited me to come and teach a lecture in that same course and he would pay me by taking me to Swiss chalet for dinner beforehand. That was more than enough payment for me.
– We shared our travel exploits together. The one I was most jealous of were his trips to Iona. It is a little island off the coast of Scotland where many people pilgrimage for spiritual retreats. He had these two shot glasses from Iona that he would bring to my house and we would drink 21 year old Balvenie out of them (thanks Miller for that:) I felt honoured that he would bring those very special glasses with him to drink from. It was his only possession that he warned me not to break.
– We went to a pub in Calgary once that specialized in 13 different flavours of Prairie oysters. We ordered the curry ones and afterwords both agreed that this would be a once only need for either of us:)
– I was in Edmonton once visiting friends and family and he was there speaking at a conference at the same time. So I went to hear him speak and afterwords we hung out in the back of the church for an hour. He was exhausted but really wanted to hang out. I felt honoured yet again about this.
– He talked so often about how much he loved Charis and how grateful he was for her. He also spoke glowingly about his boys and their families. So much love.
– There were lots of times when we sat in my backyard when I asked him if it was OK to record our conversation. The stuff that was coming out of his mouth was profound.
– We had a ton of meals and beverages at our favourite pub Sarah‘s. (I realize that it seems that many of our times together were at a pub) The last time we had together with just the two of us, we spent an entire afternoon on the patio there. More than a few times I wished I turned on my recorder, as the things coming out of his mouth were unreal. But I thought pulling out my phone and recording this would interrupt the sacredness of our time. That was a wonderful afternoon together And one I will never forget.
– He often said very profound things. But we also liked the same TV shows and music for the most part so we would often talk about that. The other day I was watching a TV show and thought I need to tell Rick about it. Then I realized I wouldn’t be able to do that anymore. We also told each other some bad jokes. Towards the end we accumulated some cancer and MS jokes. Laughter was a way we both used to handle our health situations. And it worked.
– I think that with our worlds shrinking due to our health struggles, we found each other as deeper friends having had that in common. Sometimes I found myself saying, “You know you’re Rick Tobias right?” He would say “I am not Rick Tobias anymore. I used to be”. If he could have only seen all the tributes pouring in, he would see how wrong he was. In fact, in the last few years he was more Rick Tobias than he ever was.
He once told me that you learn as much from your mentor about who you don’t want to be as to who you do. He was wrong about that too.
I also asked him why he didn’t write a book? He jokingly said “Then I’d just be another asshole with a book” (he of course had great respect for books and for his friends who have written books) I believe he was wrong about that too and I hope someday someone takes all of the stuff he has written and compiles them into a book like they’ve done for his buddy Henry Nouwen.  There’s so much wisdom in his words.
We didn’t get to have that last goodbye conversation because we both thought he would have a few more months. But when he hugged my wife goodbye that last day, I snuck a picture of it because I had a strange feeling in my gut.
It became our habit to tell each other that we loved each other whenever we said farewell. So I’m glad we did that.
He is a major loss to me as a friend as well as, if I’m being honest, to my schedule. We spent time together every week over the past few years. My world continues to shrink now that he is gone. But I do spend a lot of time at Mount Pleasant Cemetery. He asked me to come and visit him there, which I will do for sure. We drank too much Coke zero together, so I will bring some there and have some with him whenever I visit him.
He taught me so much about life and love and grace and compassion and poverty and… God. I loved him. And I know he loved me. And that made me feel unbelievably special. Still does and always will.

7 thoughts on “My Tribute to Rick”

  1. In your early days you had to work hard to be Rick, and Greg and Dion, but as your influence grew over the years the streets and those who call them home know you. You don’t have to work hard at it. Your influence is present in the lives of so many.

    Bless you and thank you for being Dion again and for sharing about Rick.

  2. Jan Rothenburger

    that was beautiful, i appreciated reading it and glad you were both friends, a true gift you gave one another….i have that same feeling about shrinking world but couldn’t put it into words and i do hope Rick’s writings get put into a book, I told YSM they should do that. I was lucky enough to take all his courses at Tyndale, he’d let me audit them and you are right the Urban Ministry course was the best I ever took also, the Poverty course was amazing too as were the others. Thanks for the stories, I could visualize them as I read.
    Jan Rothenburger

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