Tribute by Andre Parris
This is by far, the hardest task that I have ever been given, and I hope you will all bear with me. Before I begin, however, I would like to start by thanking several people. First I would like to thank all those who helped in the search and recovery of Bob’s body, helping to bring him home to Pennsylvania. You all know who you are, and he would be proud to have called you his friends. Second, I would like to thank Bob’s parents and his brother Jeff, whose strength, compassion and fortitude enables all who were working around the clock, often with little or no sleep, to stay strong during this darkest hour. Finally, I would like to extend a special thank you and warm embrace to Lieutenant Grace Telesco of the New York Police Department. Without her tireless work, resolve, and complete dedication to us, we would not be able to sit here today. We would have endured weeks of endless waiting, hoping for some sign of closure to enable us to begin the healing process. Lieutenant Telesco brought honor to her badge, she gained the respect of the McIlvaine family and friends, and she was truly the most important person in defeating the chaos and bureaucracy to bring closure to this unfortunate ordeal. She made it possible for Bob to have been brought home. She was our angel. And for that I salute you Lieutenant Grace Telesco.
In the allotted time I have been given, it is impossible to explain the friendship and admiration that I held for Bob McIlvaine. So I have chosen to weave together, a hopefully coherent narrative, from his own words in his journal, to the words of his favorite authors, to my experiences at his side. I think he would have liked that, and I think it gives the best idea of the greatness of who he as. The tears that I have shed while drafting this speech, will hopefully give birth to a piercing light that shines out of the darkness, that makes a fractured reality whole again, and that attempts in some small way to capture and convey the humanity of the man I called my best friend. While I am the one who speaks these words, they are his own.
Fate took Bob away from me. It also brought us together. Randomly assigned roommates freshman year at Princeton, we continued as roommates throughout our four years. We have stayed friends since.
At Princeton I witnessed an academic coming of age. An 18 year-old skinny kids from Oreland, Pennsylvania who was wise beyond his years, and had a drive to take every opportunity presented to him at Princeton. His pursuit of academic excellence was unequaled, his focus on understanding and refining his humanity was unrivaled. Bob took challenging classes, engaged in thoughtful discussions, grappling with social, economic, and political issues. He understood that at some point he would have to step out of the cocoon of his thoughts and beliefs, to engage seriously with others in the exchange of ideas, and to revel in an all-encompassing humanity.
At the tender age of 18, Bob wrote in his journal:
“I wish to engage in serious and profound academic study and yet I hope I may never lose sight of the greater picture, that is, of life itself, which after all, is what these subjects in the first place exist for. There is so much life to be held, to be savored, to be loved, and yet to experience it at its greatest, I must with all that I have, reach for it, for only through tremendous risks may I find the greatest fulfillment and happiness that are the essence of a genuine life.”
His profound thought academically led to a deeper understanding of himself. And it was through this understanding that he extended himself to friends. All who came in contact with Bob realized how special he was as an individual, and there were immediate connections made. These connections were often quite powerful and were shown through love, compassion, caring, honesty, and tenderness. It is unfortunate that words to not truly describe these deep emotions. However, all who are here today, and the countless others who knew and met Bob, will understand. It was inevitable that a spark was lit and a fire burned, warming all those who came in contact with him.
Bob writes in his journal about how he wanted to live his life:
“It seems to easy to lose sight of meaning, of a life that is genuine, of a life that is true within the clutter of people and places and false hopes for that which is not truly me. But as I prepare to return home, I hope that I may again find a purpose, a light toward which I may always strive, no matter how dark the sky, no matter how far I stray. Perhaps it is God, or my family, or those who I cherish as meaningful in my life. But within all of these is the principle that can, must, and always will be that which guides me through all of my days – to endure lovingly in a world too often devoid of light. This, above all else, matters truly and always will.”
I will never forget September 11, 2001. The first year of the new millennium. The day the skies opened and unleashed a furious anger upon our shores, leaving death and destruction in its wake. And two days later on September 13, 2001, the day I was unjustly forced to walk forward in time with only the memories, thoughts and images of my counterpart, my rock, my anchor, my friend. I take comfort in, and am confidant that, Bob would have wanted you to not see his departing as a loss, rather, to take this opportunity to get closer with your friends, family and loved ones. As James Baldwin wrote in “Nothing Personal”:
“One must say yes to life and embrace is wherever it is found – and it is found in terrible places. For nothing is fixed, forever and forever, it is not fixed. The earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”
I carry with me the memory of a life cut short, but of a life lived fully. A broken promise to humanity that shined in life, and now flourishes in death. Upon the death of a family member, Bob wrote in his journal:
“This to me is the tragedy and beauty that is the essence of life, for though time may steal from us the images, it may never steal from us the images, it may never steal from us what is kept away eternally in the deepest caverns of our hearts. It’s sad, even tragic, that as time passes we must leave so many behind, even ones we have loved and always will. Tim reminds us always that we are alone, alone along a journey we all share though never together. Yet I must never forget – never forget the people and places that have made up my life, and the fact that they will always be with me because they are me. I will never forget them. I promise.”
It is with great sadness that my speech comes to close, for I could speak for hours, days, months and years about Bob. But no words can reach the depths of my soul to the place where he resides, comfortable and secure, mine to love, mine to cherish, an eternal flame. Where I go, he goes. What I think, he thinks. In strife and in struggle, in happiness and in joy, I find comfort and solace in his presence within me. I am reminded of a time when I asked Bob, “Do you think when we’re married and have kids we’ll continue to talk 30 times a day.” He simply looked at me, giggled, and said, “I think so.” All I could do was smile. I always pictured us growing old together and we still will. As time moves forward and the pain beings to fade, I am certain the memories will only grow stronger.