Yesterday, Austin lost a local icon and legend. Richard “Cactus” Pryor died Tuesday (August 30) at age 88. He worked in local broadcast media for sixty years, mostly at the radio station once owned by the LBJ family. Rather than rehash what others are saying about him, I’ll just offer links.
So why talk about him here? I always admired him, and want to honor him on my stage. The one time we met, we talked Longhorn football and his favorite word. He always signed off saying, “Cactus Pryor, Thermostrockermortimer.” Everyone, including everyone at the station, longed to know what it meant. Of course, he refused to reveal it to me, a stranger. He once said somewhere, "The phrase is in the Bible; if you don't find it, keep reading."
I’m not sure if anyone really knows even now, although, a former coworker of his called in to the station today claiming he told her recently that “It doesn’t mean a #%$@%$ ^#@#$ $^%$^%&* thing.” Fair enough.
One of the hardest parts for me when someone dies is hearing all of the things about them that I never knew. “Resume bits,” reminisces, revelations—all things that show me just how much about that person there was to know and appreciate about them. How often I realize that I just don’t know what questions to ask someone that will open their treasure chest of memories…until that chest is sealed permanently. Sometimes the most interesting parts about people are the things they themselves consider unremarkable, which is why we often don’t hear about them unless it comes from others.
Life seems to be made of a seemingly endless, seemingly instantaneous, stream of moments. Which ones are significant? Which ones are junk? Are any junk? What will survive into eternity? What moments that we treasure will become dust because we treasured the wrong things? How can we learn to really appreciate those around us? How can we absorb into our being the joy and knowledge of their uniqueness, and while they are still around to share it together? How can we be similarly giving of ourselves?
It is a point for which to be thankful that there is One who shares and records all of these moments for each of us, treasuring them rightly. In quantum mechanics, we teach students that the act of observing an event affects the event. I take comfort from that—that God’s observing of the events of our lives affects them by giving them the significance of His full attention.
So why talk about Cactus here? He shared his moments for 60 years with us as a city, and rejoiced to share ours with style and wit. I wish you could have been here with us to share, and not hear it second hand. That treasure chest is closed. Yet, because of his writing and archived audio commentaries, it isn’t locked. He’d find it most appropriate if you took a peek when no one was looking.
Robb Wilson, Insertsuitablenonsensewordhere