Rob passed away on March 26, 2020, at his home. His house is down the street and across from mine. As neighbors I saw him at neighborhood parties, and he cut down a tree for me once, being a woodsman. I had heard that he was diagnosed with cancer. But I didn't know him well until the last few years.
In January of 2018 I happened to cross walking paths with his wife Shannon, and asked how he was doing. "He's bored, and he can't drive anymore," she said.
"Perhaps he would like to come to the senior yoga class?" I asked.
"Ask him," was her terse response. And that is how I came to bring Rob to the WLACC for yoga twice a week, more or less, for two years, and was privileged to know him.
The first class he attended I could see he barely made it through the hour. But in the car when I asked how it was, his single sentence said it all: "I'm sold!" One Thursday last fall Rob commented, "I do have a bucket list, you know. This weekend we are going somewhere, but I am not sure where. Shannon has arranged something." I was curious the next Tuesday when I picked him up. Where did they go? On his bucket list he wanted to drive a car 150 miles per hour! They went to Las Vegas, where someone Shannon knew in that business had a race-car driver show him the techniques, and he got to drive that car!
During several treatment rounds Rob's hair fell out and he visibly lost weight from his otherwise buff frame. Then he would bounce back for months. He regained enough strength to ride a bike, and we attended his woodcutter's competitions last summer, full of strength and life. Neighbors together did his massive yard work, and fixed his babied old yellow convertible so he could drive it on fine days, because he could drive again eventually. He never quit participating in life. The yoga class members enveloped him in love and acceptance, which he said he could feel from his "yoga mamas." He gave out T-shirts imprinted with "Rob Strong" which we'll be seeing around West Linn for years.
Throughout those two years the cancer treatments continued, some very painful for him, but he endured and said little about them. I left my car door unlocked in the parking lot, in case he would need to exit and wanted to rest there. "No thanks," he said, "as it's painful whether I do things or not, so I am doing them." I asked him once, are you afraid? "No. I am not." He meant it, too. He inspired us all with living fully as long as he could. His last class with us was March 12. March 17 he waved and called to me from a backyard gathering of neighbors keeping social distance. I am sure I hear him talking to me still, from the passenger seat in my blessed car. Amen.
Mary Jean Rivera is a volunteer at the West Linn Adult Community Center.
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