Even as a child I knew how lucky I had been to have had an uncle like Stephen de Rosa. But more than that, he was my godfather, which meant he was even more special to me; we had a bond formed by ritual and sacrament, but strengthened by love.
Stephen de Rosa. His eyes always smiled, too.
Uncle Steve had a dramatic impact on my life as a child. He was a storyteller. He could take a tale and add some little embellishments in the Italian way and make a legend out of it. His voice was dramatic, deep, and riveting, given that he had worked as an actor on stage (The Man of La Mancha is one I recall). He taught me to tell tales. As a child, I remember trying to imitate that. When my school announced a storytelling contest, it was Uncle Steve's voice that was in my head. I won, and then lost the next round, but that didn't matter. What mattered is that he had made me try, and he didn't even know it.
Uncle Steve always had a joke at hand that he told with the same flair as his stories. They were usually short jokes, under one or two minutes. There was one series that always began with three characters: Pete, Steve and John. John was always the butt of those jokes. I still tell the jokes with those names. He slept with a book of jokes next to his bed. Some of his are still my favorites. Given his love of jokes, it's no wonder that he was also a prankster. He would prank his siblings and in-laws. He would scare us with his pranks and his Halloween masks. This weekend I found an old photo of that mask and it scared me again. That beautiful Halloween night, full of mystery and wonder, was his favorite of the year. As you know, it is also mine.
Though Steve worked as a lawyer, his inner world was far beyond the world of laws and rules and regulations. He was an avid reader, and taught me to love the great men of legend: Robin Hood and King Arthur, "noble men", as his son aptly described it to me this weekend. That was in keeping with his own noble, loving, generous, and honest character. He spent weeks in the wilderness exploring throughout Canada as an Eagle Scout. I wonder if he ever pretended to be part of a band of the Merry Men as he walked through those green forests. I never asked, but I know the answer, because I do the same thing. By inspiring me to read and to love these old legends of heroes of our world, he gave me permission to dream and to have an imagination, something that my parents also fostered. He loved seeing my drawings as a kid. I know he would be very happy now to see me work towards storytelling and illustration. It was in that imaginative realm that he worked and lived. He taught his children in the same way.
This past Monday, my beloved godfather passed away. He was still a young man. In his death, a gentle passing after a hard and debilitating illness, he taught me once again. The day that he died, I had a powerful image of Robin Hood in my head. I wondered now if he were in Sherwood Forest. This passage, from the Adventures of Robin Hood, came to mind:
'Lay me a green sod under my head,
And another at my feet;
And lay my bent bow by my side,
Which was my music sweet.
And make my grave of gravel and green,
Which is most right and meet.
Let me have length and breadth enough,
With a green sod under my head;
That they may say, when I am dead
Here lies bold Robin Hood.'
What would his Heaven be? There was no doubt in my mind that he was there. When I sat at his funeral, a complete certainty of his peace washed over me, and comforted me.
The night after his funeral, we stopped at the Wilson Pier on Lake Ontario. There I felt his presence more keenly, but also more peace. Sadness, of course, for my loss, and for the loss of my family, but not for Steve. He was comforting me. That night, as the sun dipped below the clouds, we played a last song for him: "Here Comes the Sun," by the Beatles, one of his favorite bands.
Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter /
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here /
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun /
And I say it's all right
And Uncle Steve gave us the most beautiful sunset I have seen in months, a sign that he was triumphantly at peace. Goodbye, dear Godfather. I love you. Thank you for everything.