I finally got a chance to write down some thoughts from the past two weeks. I started this 2 weeks ago, and added to it as time allowed. I finally got to add in about the viewings and funeral, so I figure I should actually post this so that people could read it if they wanted to, so here are my ramblings as I remember a friend.
I have had parts of this running through my head ever since I got the call at 4am on Tuesday. It is one of the phone calls that no one wants to receive, but seeing the caller ID at a time like that, I knew what it was before I hit the button to answer my phone. Ryan Jones passed away that morning after having been in the hospital for almost 3 months. With what started as an ulcer, progressed into bouts of pneumonia, and eventually led to his passing.
Losing any friend is hard, and I have been fortunate up to this point in my life to have not had to experience this much to this point. As I have been looking back over the last few days, I truly came to realize how knowing Ryan has essentially affected everything that I have come to know as normal while here living in Nashville.
When I graduated from Belmont, I stuck around in town and hung out with people from school, but when entering the real world of work etc, that is not as easy to do. Being a geek, I had read the Harry Potter books and was working at a bookstore at the time. While browsing the internet one day, I found a Harry Potter meetup group in Nashville. I convinced Danielle that we should go check it out, as it was at the end of my street at the bookstore where I was working. I had no idea of how that decision to go meet internet strangers to talk about a kids book would affect who I am today. We met the group there, and it was the start of my Nashville friends. This group introduced me to geek life that I had no idea that it existed. That first meeting, I remember I was sitting across from Gena and Ryan. They were talking about Star Wars, and that led to costuming. I was listening, but at that point in time, I was still under the impression that costumes were a Halloween activity.
Elapse a few months later, and I am at Dragon*Con to go see the cast of Firefly. I had my Hagrid costume from the Harry Potter book release, and we made firefly costumes as well. The last day of the con, Ryan showed up in his Quinlan Vos costume. I hadn’t hung out with Ryan much to that point as he was on the road often, but on that day he put a FX lightsaber in my hand, and in a way, that was the beginning of the end. This got me interested in making a Star Wars costume. I decided that I had to find a way to justify buying one of these for myself. I decided that I needed to make a Jedi Knight costume. I bugged Ryan that I wanted to make something that wasn’t normal, and after a couple of weeks of texts and emails, that eventually led to me choosing to make Plo Koon. This required leather, so I went over to Ryans, and he introduced me to leatherworking. Ryan taught me how to dye leather, and assemble my jedi belt, and he made me my pouches. One day while working on my stuff, I also met Jess who was over hanging out. Eventually I finished up Plo, and I remember that the first time I wore it was Nov, 2005 at the Toys R Us release of something. Ryan and I rode up there, and that is when I met this group called the 501st.
Another elapse, and since I now had Plo, I joined the Rebel Legion, and that happened to be right before this thing called COSI. I remember emailing some guy named Matt Hofmann about it that I wanted to go. I convinced Gena and Steve that they should go too, and that resulted in the fabled Owen and Beru costumes. I hadn’t really hung out with Gena and Steve much, but sharing a room with them and Matt, aka the Wookiee, was a truly unique experience. (Well the one night I stayed in the room before leaving them the second night as sharing a bed with a wookiee is about as bad as it sounds. I believe they also experienced a meeting of the status of Furrys applying to the Rebel legion, as our room became the meeting location for the Rebel Legion commanding officers. I really know how to make great initial impressions don’t I?) COSI is where I met and hung out with people who I now consider some of my best friends.
Through all of this, I reacquainted myself with something that I had done back in high school of photography. I wanted to have pictures from all of these cons and events. This led to me talking to Chase about photography at a Nashville predators game, and we see where that has led in the past 3 years. As someone who tends to collect hobbies, photography seemed to bridge the gap between all of them, and I was constantly shooting this or that. One thing that keeps jumping out in this is that back in February of 2010, I wanted to practice with some new gear, so I asked Ryan and Essay to come over and get some pictures taken of their Dr. Who costumes. They agreed and Ryan also wanted to get some new headshots taken at the same time. We took all sorts of pictures, and had a great day hanging out. I had no idea how much those pictures would end up meaning to not only me, but to his family and friends. Many of those pictures were the ones that were used in various memorials, etc that celebrated Ryan’s life. The one picture that really stands out to me is this one.
I don’t recall what either myself or Essay said to get Ryan to do a natural smile, but this picture really encompasses Ryan to me, someone who always had a smile on his face. Some of these pictures also led to Flat Ryan, that was a picture that was blown into a poster and carried around Dragon*Con in order to raise money towards Ryan’s recovery. Each time I go to the ryansarmy site, I see the picture that I chose to put on the front page, and I get tears in my eyes. I pretty much do photography as a glorified hobby, but this has been something that honestly, has made it all worth it. To be able to capture a friend in pictures that will serve as a lasting memory is truly an honor.
Elapse to now, and pretty much everyone that I interact with on a daily basis, I met through costume groups, and I met these costume groups because of Ryan. He was probably the best example of how being a geek is cool, and that radiated out to all of those that he met. Seeing the outpouring for Ryan is overwhelming. There are so many people who had never met him, but knew who he was who are right there in celebrating his life. There are not many people who have that kind of affect on people. It makes me think of something from the Wheel of Time books. Ta’veren : “A person around whom the Wheel of Time weaves all surrounding life-threads, perhaps ALL life-threads, to form a Web of Destiny.” Ryan really did affect people even if they were only in proximity to him, even if they weren’t aware of it. He drew people to him by treating everyone as if they were all that mattered at that moment in time. He bridged the gap and brought groups of people together.
Adding to this, in Nashville, there was a viewing for Ryan, and this is when I saw people who I had not seen in quite some time. It just goes to illustrate how Ryan affected people. He brought out a side of people that made them seek to go the extra mile. There were members of the 501st who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years, and it really made me want to strive to keep in contact with people on a more continual basis. People from the geek community in Nashville crowded in to honor their friend and their Doctor. GMX even became a memorial for Ryan. I really have to commend the Nashville geek community for the love that they showed during this time of sorrow, but at the same time, they knew that we needed to celebrate Ryan’s life as that is the way that he would want people to carry on. It was odd in the timing of his passing as well, in that due to GMX happening, there were people who had already planned on being in town who needed to be, and might not have been able to make it other wise. One thing that will forever stand out from this is the tribute video that Chase made. He combined video clips and pictures and it was just perfect.
On the Monday after Ryan’s passing, I went to work, and then immediately got a ride to the airport to fly to NYC. I made arrangements to ride over to PA with Lacy, Vinny and Kara. I landed about midnight, and we left for PA at 4am. There was a very different vibe to the TN and PA memorials. TN was about the Ryan that I knew, the geeky guy who loved Star Wars, and Harry Potter. Up in PA, it was more of Ryan the son, and musician which was a side that I didn’t think of when I thought of Ryan. For example, when some flowers were brought in to the funeral parlor early on Tuesday, and the card said from Charlie Daniels. We would always joke about Ryan the rockstar, but very few of us realized what that actually meant. Ryan never let his celebrity get to him. He was still just the same regular guy who would rather bend your ear and tell you about the latest geek exploit of the day, not brag about his accomplishments. The viewing started at 3:30 and there was a line that kept going for over 4 hours. After the viewing was over, we all headed to our hotel to try and get some sleep for the following day. We had 2 adjoining rooms which allowed for the Nashville contingent, along with some of the Whovians who were able to make it up for the funeral to gather and just be around each other which was nice. We all needed to be around friends at that point.
The next morning began one of the longest days that I have had in quite some time. We got back to the funeral home at 9:30 and the service started at 10. I was granted the honor of being a Paul bearer, and that was something I was glad that I was able to do. We were called up to give our final respects, and then the family went through and then the casket was closed. We took Ryan to the hearse, and then headed to the church. I had never been to a Catholic funeral, but it was different. Not being Catholic, I was kind of lost if I should be standing, sitting, kneeling, or what. I thought that the service would be one of the harder parts for me, but it really wasn’t. We then proceeded to take Ryan to the cemetery, and had another small service at the chapel at the cemetery. This is where most of the people left, but as a paul bearer we had one more bit of business to take Ryan to his final resting place. We placed Ryan in the ground, and we stayed until the end. We stayed until he was lowered into the ground, and the vault was placed on the casket. All of the paul bearers then dropped a rose on the top at the same time, and we made our way back to the church for the fellowship.
Around 7, the car left with all of those who made the drive up to PA, and then about 8 or so, Lacy, Vinny, Kara, and I took Essay out to run some errands, and ended up in the toy aisle of Target which led to just being geeks and have some laughs while playing with the toys. We then headed to McDonalds to get some fries, and the one that we found was a retro 50s style restaurant that had video games in the dining area. We played with those and then sat down and had a bite and shared Ryan stories. It felt good to laugh, as that is one emotion that had not been present for a while. We took Essay back to the house, and then started our drive back to NYC arriving around 3am. I was able to lay down for a couple of hours, and then it was time to start a day of flying back to Nashville.
In this whole ordeal, I did learn one thing. As someone who in general is a pretty shy person, Ryan has still managed to bring people together. Some of the people that I have met since Ryan went into the hospital already seem like old friends that I have known for years. That just goes to show the influence that Ryan had over everyone who met him. To be able to take someone who by their nature is somewhat shy, and have them instantly meld with complete strangers who I am sure will now be lifelong friends really goes to illustrate who he was. Ryan will always be missed, and will remain a part of everyone’s life who had the privilege of knowing him, until the day they get to go see him again.