I used to work at Aflac with a bunch of cool guys.
One of them was named Chris Romeo. He was always smiling and trying to figure out how to turn the previously uttered sentence into a joke.
He called it checking someone’s oil.
One day he came up behind me next to our cubes and tried to stick his thumb up my butt. I gave him a look that made it clear he was close to death. And I said, very, very quietly that he should never, ever, ever do that again.
He was like, “Ok, point taken”. And all was good.
He liked to create mischief, in the harmless and friendly kind of way. Like an ancient fairy or elf in a magical forest.
If I heard someone laughing, or shouting out in surprise, I knew Chris Romeo was within 20 paces.
He died yesterday. My friend Brooks told me, and then we saw it on Facebook.
He and I weren’t super close. We were a bit distant from each other on the political spectrum.
But a couple of times I took him and his son, Ryan, to the local recreation center to play table tennis. Ryan was a super nice kid. Kind, and whip-smart. I could tell the moment I met him.
I was driving back to San Francisco just now, after just having learned about him passing, and I suddenly remembered Ryan.
He was just a kid then, and it’s been over a decade, but I wondered if I had his number still.
Siri, call Ryan Romeo.
Sure enough—it starts ringing. It was super late there, and I’m sure his world is chaos right now, so I didn’t expect him to answer. I left a simple message.
Hey Ryan, not sure if you remember me, but you and I met once or twice when you were a kid like ten years ago. We went and played table tennis a couple of times. Anyway, I heard the news, and I hope you’re doing ok. Let me know if you need anything.
Simple and worthless enough, but it’s hard to know what else to say in such a situation.
15 minutes later he called back.
I asked him how his family was, where he was living, how everyone was doing, and told him to let me know if he needed anything.
I told him I knew it was super late there, and that I’d let him go.
But he stops me, and says that he wanted to thank me.
For what?, I say.
Turns out he and his Dad kept playing Table Tennis after that, and it became their thing whenever he would come visit him over the years.
And he thanked me for that.
That hit me hard.
Table Tennis was a thing that they shared, and I might have played a small part in that.
I was saddened by his passing, but I wasn’t truly affected until I remembered Ryan. And I wasn’t reduced to tears until I heard that there was some kind of positivity injected into his son and his relationship as a result of us briefly meeting.
I’m left with a few thoughts.
- You only get to meet a few people in this life, and every single one of them matters.
- Try to spread positivity in everything you do, with everyone. Chris made me smile, and every time I think about him until I die, he will continue to do so.
- I am thankful for Table Tennis because it has this strange way of bringing people together, and I am so happy that it served that purpose for Ryan and his father as well.
Goodbye Chris Romeo.
I enjoyed the time we spent together on this earth, and you left it a better place by helping to secure it for all these years, and by having such a great son in Ryan.
You will be missed.