Account of Bob’s Memorial by Kendra Crossen Burroughs
“Such a dear man.” “What a wonderful guy.” “Smart!’ “Good-looking!” “Funny!” “We loved him instantly.” These were the characteristic remarks heard throughout the uplifting memorial to Bob Cushman, whose death came so unexpectedly.
Robert L. Cushman was killed in an accident in Myrtle Beach just before 4:15 p.m. on Sunday, October 19, 2014. The driver of a 1998 Ford Expedition attempting to turn onto SC-905 from Freemont Road failed to yield the right of way, resulting in the crash. (Though it was not in the news article, I heard that Bob was actually run over.) Bob died on scene from his injuries. He was wearing a helmet at the time. The local news report of the accident seemed to make a point of saying that Bob was not at fault.
On Thursday, Oct. 23 (coincidentally the anniversary of Bhau Kalchuri’s death), we attended the memorial at the Macmillan-Small Funeral Home. Jonathan and I arrived to see an overflowing parking lot and a long line of people waiting to sign the guest book. Baba-lovers, family members, and motorcycle and tennis friends of Bob’s were present.
Val Bernabo, as master of ceremonies, told a few facts about Bob’s adult life. At the time of the Vietnam War, it was possible in Massachusetts for a conscientious objector to do social service instead of army service, and that’s how Bob came to work with children in the 1970s. Upon discovering that the Child Protective Services was returning children to abusive homes, he blew the whistle and testified to the Massachusetts legislature, gaining some enemies in the process but also helping to change the system.
In 1981 he left Massachusetts and moved to Myrtle Beach. He worked for five or six years at Meher Spiritual Center, in the Gateway, where he met thousands of people on their pilgrimage to Baba’s Home in the West. Bob was interested in real estate and after this stint he bought some properties and became a landlord as well as an expert in repairs. One of his great loves was tennis, about which he was so enthusiastic that people could hear him from miles away yelling things like “What a great shot!” or “You snake!” or “Bobby don’t like that!”
Motorcycles became an interest later in his life, and he owned nine bikes. Val said that sometimes he’d call Bob to play tennis but Bob would say, “Nope, today I’m riding.” He would ride long distances but always come back to sleep in his own bed; he wouldn’t sleep anywhere else but home. During these trips he befriended many strangers, easily relating to people from all walks of life. Bob loved people and people loved Bob, said Val, who was reminded of Meher Baba’s saying “Real happiness lies in making others happy.”
Next, Corinne Merrill quoted something that Meher Baba had said in 1956: “Nobody suffers in vain, for true freedom is spiritual freedom and suffering is a ladder towards it. Men unknowingly suffer for God, and God knowingly suffers for man.” Upon learning about a Baba-lover who had died in a motor accident, Baba said, “He is blessed to be with me. All will be well. Don’t worry.”
John Cushman, Bob’s brother, came to the microphone and with touching emotion told us, “I’m overwhelmed by the love that’s in this room. This is hard for me. I’ll be sad for the rest of my life.” John recalled how the boys’ mother used to call them from the backyard, mixing up their names: “Jobby!” Five years older than Bob, John said he picked on his little brother a lot. At dinner when their mother served dessert, he would grab Bobby’s share. “God I love him and miss him so much. I’ll think of him forever, and someday I’ll be with him. Thank you for coming. I appreciate it very much.”
John’s daughter, Carolyn Cushman — Bob’s niece — came up next and expained that her mother had wanted to come but felt she would have too difficult a time speaking, so Carolyn conveyed her mother’s feelings to the audience. Her mother deeply loved Bobby, who was so loving, charming, smart, and good-looking; he made her laugh and also made her crazy. Bob never said a negative thing about anyone and was not materialistic. Bob has always been in her heart and always will be.
Next Gary Edelman came up with his guitar, saying he felt extremely lucky to be here for Bob. He sang an extremely heartfelt rendition of “Welcome to My World,” a song Meher Baba loved. “I’ll be waiting here, with my arms unfurled, waiting just for you, welcome to my world.”
Jean Tresselt was next. She told us that she and her late husband, Hugh, had moved to Myrtle Beach the same year as Bob. “We loved him instantly.” Bob was generous beyond belief, she said—he had a lot of “stuff” but really only one treasure: a locket of Meher Baba’s hair. When Hugh was very ill, Bob brought him the locket and told him to wear it during his treatments and it would help him. Hugh and Bob would talk for hours on the phone. Jean quoted two Rumi lines that she said described these conversations: “The wound is the place where the light enters” and “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Bob was humble, reclusive, sweet, somewhat shy—but he was loud! “HEY, JEAN, GOOD TO SEE YA!” Jean imagined Bob reaching the Other Side and shouting, “HEY, BABA, GOOD TO SEE YA!” Bob’s problem with “volume control” was humorously noted by a number of people.
Cushman enjoyed cutting up and playing pranks, and Susan White was introduced as someone who was the butt of many of his jokes. She said that whenever you mention Bob to anyone, the first thing they do is laugh or smile; he really lit up a room. He had such a big heart, gave so much love. He felt the most free on his bike—free from the physical pain that plagued him, due to fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He was always there to help with whatever you needed and also emotionally. When Susan heard that Bob had passed, she had a strong inward feeling that he had sped to the Light instantly. She was so glad that he had called her the night before the accident. “He’s a big one for our community to miss.”
Brad Mandell called Bob the most interesting and unique person he’d ever met. While walking around his house doing repairs, Bob looked like a character out of Deliverance. Once a sheriff came to the house to ask Bob if he’d seen someone in the area, and Bob said he thought the sheriff was afraid to get out of his car!
Bob liked to cut firewood for his wood-burning stove. Once he was loading his van with long logs sticking out. As he backed up, a long log hit a tree and came jutting forward and went through the windshield, missing Bob by inches.
Bob always had a dozen projects in the house going at the same time. He had at least six motorcycles in various states of repair and would ride the one that happened to be running that day. Brad’s own limit was about four hours, but after Brad returned home, Bob would continue to ride for the rest of the day, making discoveries and finding new places.
Price Branch said that he and Bob had been friends for many years. Price’s nicknames for Bob included Cushman, Cush, and Cushy, while “BOB!” could be shouted with many different inflections. Especially over the last fifteen years Price and Bob had had a lot of contact through their common love of tennis. Bob was always trying to organize tennis matches, and the two of them played tennis the day before the accident, Bob performing exceptionally well.
Bob was a great storyteller who loved to tell of his exploits. Years ago he had a run-down white van with grimy curtains in the windows that Price said was something out of The Silence of the Lambs. Bob would say that women and children turned their heads away when he passed by—and even cops seemed wary of pulling him over, as if there might be a body in the van.
It was also remarked that many of Bob’s stories contained spiritual messages. Bob would often say that everything was Baba’s Will.
Several speakers commented on Bob’s appearance. Although his good looks were mentioned a few times, his unkempt long hair and old clothing were noted as well. Price would say, “Couldn’t you put some shampoo on that hair and run a comb through it?”
A man named Woody Geague called Bob “one of my dearest friends. He gave me advice, consoled me, took away my pain during the passing of my mother. He was one of the most genuine people I ever met.” The two men met at a gas station and became steadfast friends while filling up. One time Bob called Woody to tell him he’d found some little kittens abandoned in a shack and Bob had brought them all home. Woody’s favorite was named Pegu. [Pegu was the name of a cat that was drawn to visit Meher Baba at Guruprasad in India.] Bob love his cats and his cats loved him. Woody relished their friendship. They were both history buffs. “I hope someday I can see him again, and I know we’ll talk about history and motorcycles.”
Larry Green told a story that he said he now suspected had happened on purpose. He and Bob met once outside a convenience store. Bob was carrying a cup of coffee in one hand and his keys in the other. This made it awkward as they moved toward each other to shake hands. After a bit of fumbling, Bob somehow ended up with his keys in the coffee cup—and they did shake hands.
For several years Bob lived in southern Spain after falling in love, and he learned to speak Castilian Spanish fluently. One time when he was overheard saying “Gracias,” pronouncing it in the Latin American way (with the c spoken like an s), someone asked why he didn’t pronounce it “Grathias” as in Spain. Not missing a beat, Bob said, “Oh, I’m thorry.”
Deb Smith recalled that in the first year she lived in Myrtle Beach, Bob warned her, “You’ve gotta be careful what you ask Baba for. I used to want to know what the burning love that Baba spoke about was like.” Then one day he felt as if he were totally on fire and ran out of the house screaming, “BABA, PUT THE FIRE OUT!”
Marshall Hay climbed the steps to the podium saying, “It’s wonderful to hear all these stories—most of it’s true.” As he looked at Bob’s photo at the front of the auditorium, he said, “I haven’t seen him looking that good.” Marshall testified that Bob Cushman had lived a full life, both interior and exterior. “A few years ago I agreed that I would say something nice about him at his funeral if he would say something nice about me at mine. The nicest thing I can say is that no matter what happened to him in the ups and downs of life, he held on to Baba’s daaman [hem of his garment], right to the very end. So I say, ‘Congratulations, Bob. You did everything you could.’”
Mimi Hay was Bob’s partner in mixed doubles. “Usually if we lost a point it was because of me,” she said, but he was never critical of her nor made her feel like the inferior player. With all the comments about Bob’s “hairdo,” Mimi had offered to give him a haircut, but the long, straggly hair remained. However, Mimi revealed that Bob had beautiful legs!
John Coffin was a fellow motorcycle enthusiast. They agreed that riding a motorcycle was like shaking your fist at fate—perhaps part of the attraction. One day when they were riding, John took a curve too fast and went onto the grass, heading for a bridge abutment. The bike fishtailed on the wet grass and went out from under him, landing in the swamp while John slid down the embankment. After making sure he was still alive, John got up and was brushing himself off when he saw Bob rushing toward him, yelling, “OH BABA!” Now, Bob had a passion for shirts that looked about forty or fifty years old, and the one he was wearing that day looked almost translucent. In his excitement, the shirt tore, so by the time other people arrived on the scene, they rushed over to Cushman, saying “My God, are you all right?” It was added that on a good day Bob looked more like he’d been in an accident . . .
Rosalee O’Dunphy got up to say how much she shared with Bob the enjoyment of making others laugh and the appreciation of the amusing incidents that happen in life, in Baba’s words, “at the expense of none,” which Baba said lightened his burden.
A close friend of Bob’s was Christina Riley, who tearfully expressed what a shock his death had been. She said that his health problems had been getting worse in recent years. In the course of her remarks she also noted that Bob had been involved in AA, which he felt was a gift from God. Once a heavy drinker early in life, he had not touched alcohol in many years.
Christina described Bob’s place as a house that required you to just BE. She sometimes spent the night there, sleeping in the living room by the wood-burning stove, beside which Bob always kept a few logs handy. The house became a home to bugs, spiders, frogs, and the occasional snake. Bob would kill the snakes. [Meher Baba had said that if a snake was killed by a human being, it enabled it to move on in its evolution out of the snake form.] But he discovered that when he killed the snakes, the frog population burgeoned. If he tried to get rid of the frogs, the bugs multiplied. He realized that his house was an ecosystem unto itself! One time Christina got the idea to buy a fake snake at the dollar store. She tucked it between the logs next to the stove and then waited. Finally she pointed and said, “What’s that?” Bob freaked out and grabbed a club; when he realized he’d been had, he was mad for hours.
After staying over one night in September some years ago, Christina woke up late when Bob had already gone out. He always made some really concentrated coffee once a week: you would put some in a cup and fill it up with water and heat it in the microwave. Christina got her coffee and went over to the TV, which was already on, turned to the news channel. Suddenly she saw a plane fly into the World Trade Center tower. “Bob had turned the TV on for me so that when I woke up I would be aware of this. He’d left on his motorcycle to tell everyone because he was so upset.” Christina was struck by Bob’s awareness of what her experience would be like, a degree of empathy that is somewhat rare in men, she felt. In being so emotionally present, Bob taught her how to be a friend. He was able to feel others’ emotions and be authentic with them.
Ray D’Argenio gave another example of Bob’s thoughtfulness. “In New York in the late ’90s I was going through some heavy s**t.” The phone rang and out of nowhere there was Bob saying, “HEY, RAY, HOW YOU DOIN’?” It completely lifted Ray’s mood.
The memorial concluded with Gary Edelman singing “Hallelujah,” with many in the audience singing along with the chorus. It was a song by Leonard Cohen, one of Bob’s favorite singer/composers, but Gary had changed the last verse to be more appropriate:
Now it’s time to close your eyes,
Rest in Peace, say goodbye,
I feel blessed that I can say I knew ya.
No need to mourn, no need to cry,
It’s time to celebrate the life,
To fill the soul with song of Hallelujah.