My friend Rico was killed last week. The trouble I have writing the word murdered, speaks to the tenderness of the wound. He was thirty. In calling him my friend, I’m being generous to myself. It is how he made me feel.
Though he only lived a few blocks from me, I only saw him on school days, as I dropped off or picked up Sweets. He was never too busy to say hello, and often extended his hand for a complex four stage hand shake that I never got right. I was often self-conscious of my inability to make each move. It didn’t matter to him, it was part of the way he welcomed people. That’s what stays with me.
Rico didn’t know it, but he was one of my role models for being welcoming. The most important and precious lesson he taught me, again and again, was the importance of welcoming everyone, always. What did I do to merit the handshake, his smile, and the less frequent hug? Nothing. Nothing at all.
Yesterday afternoon, I asked Sweets if she wanted to go to the viewing. She said no, she didn’t want to go. She knew who Rico was, and knows his eldest daughter, who is also ten. “She’s not really my friend, Dad.” “I know,” I said. “I never saw him outside of school, either. Still, it’s important to go. You know what it’s like to almost lose a parent. Do you remember that?” She cast her eyes downwards. “His kids are Dilworth kids, just like you. Dilworth isn’t just your school, it’s a community. When things like this happen, we come together. That’s one of the most important things people do, supporting each other when they’re hurting.” She looked up and let me know with her eyes that I was pushing a little too hard. A knock at the door signaled her moms arrival. She picked her up, and continued a similar version of the same conversation as they made their way home.
Later, at the viewing, I felt a tap on my shoulder. She’d come with her mom, after all. “I’m glad you’re here” I said to her. “It means a lot. To me, to the family, and everyone that we both don’t know that’s here.” “Yeah, and that’s just about everyone.” I laughed. “It is. These are people who loved him, and only some of them, and we don’t know any of them! They don’t know us, either. We’re letting them know that this person they loved, touched people they had no idea he knew. That’s a blessing for all of us, and a tribute to the nice guy he was.” We chatted with a few folks, and sat for a while before leaving.
Rico leaves behind three children, the youngest of whom is in kindergarten. The school is taking a collection for the Cooper family, for after-school care, uniforms, and the like. If you’re inclined, you can send a check to Dilworth Traditional Academy, at 6200 Stanton Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15206. On the memo put “Cooper Family Fund.” Thanks.