It will not come as a shock to any reader who knows me well that I make an effort to get to know people when I am in a new environment. That is also true when I am being served at any restaurant or pub. I always ask my servers their names and always hope to learn more about who they are. It’s just a part of my DNA. Over the years that has meant that I have come to know some incredibly interesting and wonderful people – God’s beloved, all of them. Today I want to tell you about Robin.
In 2010 Catherinanne and I made a pilgrimage to Iona. It was an incredible experience where we were brought into the lives of many people. When we completed the week on Iona we travelled back to Glasgow for an evening. One of the group we traveled with was the coolest Presbyterian on the face of the planet – Mike. We took the train to back Glasgow together and voted two to one, to go the the Drum and Monkee for dinner. Catherinanne was happy to oblige and off we went. Our server was a tall, fair young man with an wicked sense of humour. As is my custom, I asked – “what is you name, man?” Quickly, back came an extended hand, a warm smile a tender, young voice, “I’m Robin!” I could not have predicted in that moment where that encounter would lead.
Over the course of several pints of beer that he served to me and Mike, he was intrigued by the conversation that Catherinanne and Mike and I were having as we debriefed about our time exploring ourselves, our faith, and our doubts on Iona. Robin chimed in…. “are you guys religious? Because if you are you are the coolest religious people I’ve ever met!” I assured Robin that there are far cooler religious people than us…. but that he would be hard pressed to find them! It was certainly be hard for him to find a religious person cooler than Mike
Each visit back to our table Robin got engaged in the conversation. He told us he was not a believer – at all. At the same time, he was facinsated by the fact that we believed in God and that we were thrilled to discuss what his beliefs were, and were not, and that we were not only open to it but that we were interested to hear what he had to say. Our conversation was too important and to meaningful to be left to a server to patron relationship. Robin was finishing his shift, so we invited him to join us. He did. We talked, we drank, we sang, and we shared in one another’s stories. We got to know more about this young man. He got to know more about us. It was clear that Rob cared deeply about others, believed in fairness, loved his kin and wanted humanity to be better. Robin had questions. And they were not trivial. Robin’s kindness, gentle spirit and easy demeanour allowed the four of us to have a real beautiful time of communion that night at the Drum and Monkee. He learned that those of us engaged in spiritual discovery were not all religious freaks and we learned that those who were not believers we among the most spiritually alert.
We did what people do nowadays, exchanged Facebook accounts and promised to keep in touch. For a time we did that. Once in a while sending along a message, or commenting on what one another was doing. Then, sadly, we did not reach out to each other much for some time. Last week, the coolest Presbyterian ever, Mike, saw a photo of me with a meter of beer posted on my Facebook wall. He tagged Robin and noted that it was ‘not quite like Guinness in Scotland.’ No reply came from Robin. That got me curious. Thinking of him brought back his warm smile, so I went to visit Robin’s wall.
I wasn’t prepared for what I found. His Facebook wall was now “Remembering Robin Thomson.” I was stunned to learn that Robin was gone from us. I reached out to some folks that had added remembrance comments to his page. Eventually I heard from his sister Claire. She wrote to me and explained that he had died tragically in 2014.
“He was randomly punched one night and unfortunately he broke his neck when he landed. We (our mother and father and myself) got spend 3 days by his side before we knew we had lost him. The whole thing was horrific…we still have a huge daily struggle with it all. On a positive note, my mother and I have done a lot of fundraising over the years and managed to raise approx £160,000 for the ICU that looked after him and a brain injury charity in Glasgow, which brings us warmth. I am very sorry you didn’t know, I had no idea how many people Rob knew.”
My heart sank. I was so very sad to hear about Robin’s death and how very tragic it was. I am so very sorry about Robin. So heart broken to know that his parents and his sister were stripped of life with this insightful and engaged young man. He died way too young. He died in such violence. He was, in my estimation. Such a kind and peaceful would and I was vexed to think that someone who was gentle could die in such violence.
I only know Robin from one chance encounter. I have told the story of my night with a Robin Thomson many, many times. I have even preached about it. Robin would not use this language that follows, but in my opinion, he would be ok with me using it…..
Robin was a child of God who made my life a little better. I am a better human being because of the evening we spent together. I entered the Drum and Monkee a stranger to Robin Thomson. I left it that night having my ideas challenged and my heart chang d because I had come to know this young man. I left there with a new friend. My heart is sad that this young man is gone. I entered a pub and met a beautiful child of God, who took time to get to know me.
I pray that Rob’s sister and parents know the peace of God. I pray they take comfort of knowing that Robin’s life made a difference in the lives of countless people…. strangers to them but fellow travellers on this journey of life and love that we are all on.