Here’s to you, Bobby Byrne

There was a time when I would have scoffed at a memorial service in a bar. I would have shook my head at the idea of celebrating a life and mourning a death with friends as people took turns singing words from a screen. Now, I shake my head at that girl, she didn’t understand, in all of her knowing. Now, I am just grateful to be there, to be invited, to know the man whose memorial service packed a bar on a Monday night. I am grateful to have called Bobby Byrne a friend.

I met Bobby when my friends from work invited me to karaoke night. He was a friend of theirs. Bobby had a beautiful voice and could have used it to intimidate the rest of us into not having anything to sing. Everyone knows the local karaoke guy who uses the stage as a personal platform, wields his voice to show everyone else they do not belong. Bobby could have been that guy. He was good enough we would have gladly let him sing all night. Instead he used it to invite everyone to have a turn, to ensure everyone was having a good time. Need the night to pick up, the bar to perk up? Ask Bobby to sing. Need to feel like someone wants you to sing? If the most talented man in the bar says you can have one, then you can have one.

Bobby lived his life the same way. Inviting everyone to have a turn; giving people permission to sing their own song. Bobby recognized the worth in people, simply because they were people. He had the capacity to love as he did, so freely and easily, so thoroughly accepting, because he knew and loved himself.

In high school a group called Plumb sang a song about a God shaped hole, a desperate searching soul. I’ve known that God shaped hole, been made whole by the space being filled to overflowing. But what do you do with a hole the size and shape of a man no one ever had an unkind thing to say about? How do you fill the space he left in so many lives?

On the way home from the bar I put in the CD with his big and beautiful voice. I cried as his voice sang the theme of every church banquet of my youth, Michael W. Smith’s Friends are Friends forever. I think the last conversation we had was the one where he told me he was enjoying my blog, specifically my easter reflections. It had never occurred to me he thought more of easter than bunnies and jellybeans. I wonder what else never occurred to me, what I will never get to know.

There was a time when I would have beat myself up over not having this conversation. Grieved the opportunities I may or may not have had. But when I think about the life that Bobby Byrne lived I can almost hear him whisper to me, “It is okay, you are doing the best you can.”

I sat at that bar last night, with this book proposal hanging over my head. Spring Break is the deadline I set for myself, and here it is. I have it written, and today begins the messy process of editing. Somehow this scares me more than the writing. It means I am taking myself and my message more seriously than I ever have. I have a lot of myself in my book, parts that I have kept off of this blog, parts I am not sure I have wrestled out with myself.

Bobby Byrne would tell me that those messy parts are okay, he would smile at me in a way that would remind me that there are people in this world who will love my messy parts too.   Bobby knew himself and loved himself, and because of that he had the space to love, really love, all of us, even the messy parts.

Here’s to you Bobby Byrne. I am taking the invitation to sing my own song the best I know how. Even when I am off-key, even when I don’t know all the words. Thanks for the invitation to share this stage we call life. I can hear them telling me I’m about to be up. I know you’ll be cheering for me. I know you’ll think I did a good job. Bobby Byrne, you made this world just a little bit safer for us all.

There was a time I would have scoffed at a memorial service that packed out a bar on a Monday night, where everyone took a turn with the karaoke night. Now I am grateful to have known a man who could inspire such amazing performance.

6 thoughts on “Here’s to you, Bobby Byrne

  1. Just lovely, Abby. I still cannot believe the traffic from your post last week – at least 10 a day in my inbox. Wowza. For me, however, this post is every bit as marvelous and I thank you for it.

  2. This was beautiful. I always loved it when Bobby would sing Blues Traveler. You are spot on about his wonderful voice and that I have never heard anyone speak ill of him. Nor could I come up with a reason why anyone would have had reason to do so. Wish I could have been there but I’m glad I could give you that opportunity.

  3. I worked with Bobby for a little over a year at the job I had before coming to GSU. He was probably one of most cheerful, compassionate and helpful people I’ve ever had the pleasure of being around. It’s sad to know that he’s gone, but I know he’d be unbelievably moved by all of the kind things you’ve said and I’ll always be grateful for the fond memories I have of him.

  4. I have known Bobby for twenty-seven years and I have to say you captured the spirit that was beautiful Bobby and described the empty space left inside of me that only Bobby could fill. Thank you.

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