Change the world, just a little, for Ryley
- Nancy Townsley
- Forest Grove News-Times - Opinion
Some came wearing flip-flops and T-shirts, others wore neckties and shiny black dress shoes.
Some were young, as vital as had been the man they came to celebrate, an affable friend who'd walked with them down the hallways of their high school little more than a year before.
Others were old and wizened, having lived through wars before, shocked again, and saddened, at the untimely death of a young serviceman with such promise, such dedication, such zest for life.
From their seats in the sanctuary at the new Mormon church in Forest Grove, they stared intently at a large color portrait of Ryley Gallinger-Long, handsome in his dark blue Navy sailor's uniform, gazing back at them with purposefulness and love.
Ryley - patriot, son, grandson, brother, husband and friend - was gone.
His wife, Hope, walked somberly behind his casket as a military honor guard bore it to the front of the church, her heart broken, her steps slightly shaky, her countenance resolute.
She wore the black and white dress she'd worn on their first date, to the junior-senior prom, in 2009. Ryley had played Guitar Hero in her living room before they left for the dance that evening, like he was already part of the family.
That was the kind of guy he was, Hope said.
After today, she would retire the dress forever, a personal memory she'd shared only with him.
Hope clung to Ryley's identical twin brother, Wyatt, the only other person present at the young couple's wedding in Illinois just five months ago.
At the dais, friends tried to tell Ryley's story. Though their words were inadequate, they formed a kind of salve to bind up the community's gaping wound.
Funny. Adventuresome. Charming. Caring. Sincere.
His former teacher, Mike McCabe, said Ryley's final act - opening his medic's bag to aid a wounded Marine as gunshots zinged around them in a faraway land - had marked him forever as a hero.
His good friend, Cody Brown, quoted Psalm 23 and thanked Ryley for his sacrifice.
His older brother told of the last conversation he'd had with Ryley, on Facebook chat, from his base in Afghanistan in the middle of the night. 'He said, 'I have to go. I love you, bro,'' Zack Gallinger-Long related.
Ryley, they all agreed, was the real deal. At only 19, he had figured out that being anything less than genuine was less than he wanted to be - something, one person observed, that takes many of us a much longer lifetime to learn.
As I sat with my notebook in my lap, I thought about what I might do to carry forward the light that was this young man's life. Like many in the audience Saturday, I hadn't known Ryley personally.
Yet, in a very real way, all of us do.
We know him in the tenor of the conversations we have with others each day. We know him in the actions we take, or don't, to ease someone else's way. We know him in the attitudes we adopt, the work we do and the feelings we express.
We can all pledge to do better: to be less critical and more forgiving, less self-righteous and more accepting, less cynical and more trusting.
If we want to, we can turn toward what the poet Rumi called 'the source of kindness' and be more so. For Ryley.