This short piece was written in response to the death of my cousin, Richard Thomas, in April of 2007, at the age of 53. Although as an adult he preferred to be called Richard, to me and those who had known him from childhood he was always Ritchie. He suffered a catastrophic spinal injury in 1985, and spent the remaining years of his life as a quadriplegic. Although he had his dark spells and difficult periods, he mostly went through all the trials associated with that type of injury with grace, courage, determination and even humor. I think in the end his heart was just worn out from over two decades of fighting.
We weren’t always as close as I would have liked, and we disagreed about many things, but as we were both only children I often thought of him as the older brother I never had. I had nothing but admiration for the way Ritchie dealt with his injury and subsequent disability; he continued working as long as he could, and even when he had to quit his job, he did not withdraw from the world at all. Instead, he kept himself aware and informed, got out as much as he was able, enjoyed life more than many people in perfect physical health, and usually managed to keep a twinkle in his eye and a joke on his lips. I have wondered more than once if I could have dealt with his situation with even a fraction of his valor.
The title is a phrase taken from an article in the New Yorker about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas by Janet Malcolm. It has no direct connection to the piece, but simply struck me as appropriate.
In his youth, Ritchie had been a fine trombonist, although he never pursued it professionally. That, of course, is why this brief elegy is written for solo trombone.