There’s this guy called Ronnie. He was the centre of the taiji world in Scotland – yes, I know that’s a big claim, but he edited and produced the tai chi union magazine and he founded and has run an amazing annual festival of taiji called Tai Chi Caledonia for 20 years. Through his contacts he has spread incalculable knowledge for which people all over the world are grateful.
When I heard that he was ill, knowing how worrying it can be being ill and getting behind schedule when you’re self employed, I offered to go back to the day job and help him with the current magazine. I imagined phone calls or skype calls or chats at his bedside in the Beatson, being told what to include and where the material he had already collected was.
When I didn’t hear from him, I hoped that it was because he was getting better and he didn’t need my help, but I was surprised because although he could be gruff and grumpy, he was always courteous. Then I received an email from his right hand woman, Aileen, asking if I would get involved.
We had one productive meeting when I was on my way to a week in the sunshine and he told me his plans for what was to be his 50th magazine. He knew he didn’t have the energy to finish it and was indeed worrying about it, so he was very grateful. He explained some of the articles in the pipeline and we agreed to meet and put together a flatplan a week later when I got back.
A week later, he could hardly talk and was drifting in and out of consciousness. Friends had been visiting from Germany, France, Italy (even England). He acknowledged them all with a smile and an occasional ‘f… me, what are you doing here?’ All I could do was repeat the promise I had made to finish his magazine.
With Aileen’s help we found his laptop and copied some material that was there. She searched his computer at home too and obtained a template I could work from, but there was not a lot of content there. So I asked for help from all the usual contributors. Some of them still didn’t know he was ill; it was not easy being the one to break the news of his illness and, three days later, his passing. But without exception, people have rallied round and are providing everything I need, from articles to translations from Chinese and photographs.
I have been inundated with tributes to him for the magazine, which I’ve been reading with tears rolling down my cheeks. How could one man be so loved and valued by so many people? Everything I read makes me feel more acutely what we have lost.
There is only one thing you can do when you have been privileged to know someone like this and that is to carry on. Helen and I discussed the next workshop and we decided we would offer Shibashi, which Ronnie taught us at Samye Ling one freezing November weekend (Helen and I were the skinflints who camped there in our campervans with four sleeping bags and ice on the inside of the windows!) That picture up top is Ronnie teaching it at Caledonia.
Elsewhere in the taiji world, his students are taking over as many of the 17 classes he taught (from Carrick House to Maggie’s Centre and Barlinnie) as possible, and there is a strong determination that Tai Chi Caledonia will go on, and on.
Meanwhile, I’m doing my little bit by going back to the day job.