I first saw Elvis Reyes in the light of his mother’s eyes.
She was a warrior in the courtroom, a prosecutor of the monsters who beat women and raped children, a laughing, joyous woman who chased evil into its lair and broke its neck and came back with neither her faith nor her good cheer dimmed.
And she loved her sons.
And the one that struck me was the one she named Elvis. An audacious name that said a lot about her and set a high bar for him. He was playing pro ball back then. He pitched in 58 innings over two seasons, one in the Appalachian League and another in the Gulf Coast League, 6-foot 8-inches of hurling hellfire, a dream chased and an adventure had.
That was almost 35 years ago.
And in the years since, I’ve seen Elvis Reyes in the light of a great many people’s eyes. And heard him described in words of the heart. Because Elvis lived up to his name, he was the star in every setting, a man of joy, a brother to all whose talent was love.
Elvis Reyes was a fireman with the city of Rochester. For 20 years he wore the uniform still worn by two of his brothers and two of his sons, and by hundreds of others bound by spirit if not by blood, the grand family of the Rochester Fire Department.
And they all know him, and all seem to love him, because he loved them first. Like everyone whose path he crossed or whose burdens he bore. Elvis was a broad smile and a loud laugh and a helping hand, a man who wasn’t perfect but who was definitely good, who brought out the best in others by giving the best of himself.
He saved lives with acts of courage and with words of compassion, chasing evil into its lair and breaking its neck, and lifting up the depressed and the discouraged. He fought fire and he built lives, and now he is gone, gone back to the God who, in partnership with his loving parents, gave him life.
But his death, like his life, was an act of service and will be turned to good. In the coming together to honor his career and passing, his department has been bound anew in a communion of brothers and sisters, one uniform, one mission, one family, one commitment to the city and its people.
God can’t be everywhere, so sometimes he sends firefighters in his place. And some of those firefighters wear the patch and ride the apparatus of the Rochester Fire Department, the heroes of the city, the friends of all, the blue-collar angels who bring courage, capability and compassion on every call. That’s who Elvis Reyes was, and that’s who they all are, and that’s what they were reminded of as they mingled before his casket in their dress-blue uniforms. Theirs is a holy calling and a sacred duty, for burly men and rugged women who can feel and fight and be counted on.
Elvis was a mirror in which people saw the good in themselves.
And today they will lay him away. The grandson of pioneers who came from Puerto Rico, the third of four generations of service to the people and principles of Rochester. Don Pedro Pedraza, Angela Reyes, Elvis Reyes, and the stories still to be written by his sons on the pages of their city’s history. He was a good man born of good people, mourned and celebrated by good people in a good town.
But it is not enough to celebrate the great, we must emulate them. It isn’t enough to admire Elvis Reyes. If his legacy is to linger, we must borrow his best traits and make them our own, we should always strive to acquire the character we admire. It doesn’t matter how big your funeral is if people don’t take something home from it. And what we should all take home from the funeral of Elvis Reyes is the resolution to be better.
To be happier, to be more joyous, to be more loving and of greater use, to give more of ourselves in the service of others.