|Profile picture from Robert Taylor's Facebook Page|
I learned last week of the death of my friend and mentor, Robert Taylor. Bob was a clinical psychologist by profession and he was also a humorist, a poet, an avid bird-watcher, a lover of nature and a friend of the arts. He was a friend to many and a natural mentor due to his warm, friendly nature and his keen insight. Bob Taylor did many things that I wish I could do. Because he was a man of such varied activities and interests, there were many capacities in which I might have known Bob, but I knew him primarily through his love for poetry.
I first met the man years ago when I attended some small group sessions that he led called “Life Cycles Poetry.” During those informal sessions Bob guided us in reflecting upon the various stages of life by reading poetry. He also invited us to bring poems that were meaningful to us to share with the group. It was a wonderful time of stopping to reflect upon the whole of life, hearing others share from their lives, and appreciating the insights that poets have given us. Bob mentioned at one point during those sessions that he had done similar sessions in nursing homes, and that the people there were greatly appreciative of the activity.
I also knew him through the writers group that met for a time at the Birmingham Unitarian Universalist Church. I was so glad to be able to hear some of the poetry that he wrote. In a single short poem, Bob could lead the listener to a profound depth of feeling so that in that last line there would be an “aha” sensation of true being. I once told him that I admired the way he could do that with a poem because I tend to be more tentative. Too often I hold back and don’t quite say the profound thing. I don’t always acknowledge the pain, the longing, or that yet-unanswered-question which lies beneath the surface of our endeavors. Bob Taylor, however, could do that in just a few words.
Not only did Bob write some beautiful poetry, he could also read a poem better that anyone I know. He had a quiet and unassuming demeanor, yet when he read a poem, it was in a voice that knew exactly where that poem came from. Those who heard him knew that they were witnessing a true encounter.
It was also my privilege to attend a men’s group that Bob was a part of. It was a group with no real agenda except to “talk about stuff.” Sometimes conversations were about what was happening in the world, sometimes about what was happening in our lives. We talked about books and magazine articles and various philosophies that caught our interest. We spoke of fathers and brothers; politicians and artists; house repairs and first jobs. As a man fully entering into that “midlife stage,” I knew that Bob had managed the waters of midlife. I had the unmistakable sense that if I paid attention I could manage those waters as well, and if I was lucky, I might one day manage old age as well as my friend Bob Taylor.
I will miss his smile, his calm demeanor and his welcoming nature. I will miss his witty commentary on life. More than anything, though, and for the rest of my days, I will always wish that I could hear one more poem from Bob Taylor.