I attended a memorial service today.
For a man whom stories have been written.
Tales of courage. Stories of raucous adventures across the Sandhills of Nebraska. His life has been put into lyrics of cowboy music. His wisdom and kindness and teaching and care have been written on the hearts of all who knew him, and his songs and gentle melodies committed to the memories of all.
Under the February skies, they came from all around to pay tribute to this man who sometimes seemed larger than life. With brightly colored neck scarves, and sport coats, rhinestones, wranglers, polished boots, and yes…the cowboy hat.
Black, grey, tan, and colors in between. All felt. All carefully brushed and shaped. All reserved for an event such as this.
In my country, almost every man, and most women, have a hat, or two, or five. It is our signature. A trademark. A piece of our identity. A straw is a man or woman’s work attire. But felt. Felt is special. Especially if it’s a “good hat”. They only come out for church, weddings, and funerals.
Cattlemen and women sat shoulder to shoulder today, most with their hats. Most wore them, except for when their heads were bowed in prayer. Some held them on their laps. Worn and checkered faces smiled with the lines that told their stories, and many pulled handkerchiefs from their pockets to wipe the corners of eyes worn by the kind of life that can only be understood if it has been lived.
By my estimation, some six hundred people gathered today in the gateway of the Sandhills to honor the life of Roger. A perfectly, imperfect man who battled addiction and cancer and sang and played his way through this life to fill his heart with joy, drive away demons, and bless anyone who heard his story.
Roger battled cancer back for 14 years. And just as God often does, He moved in Roger’s life at the right time. Roger gave his life to Christ and the story of that redemption and the abundant life lived was centerfold today.
And as cattlemen and women do, they all stood under the warmth of the temporary winter thaw to talk and laugh and discuss cattle and politics, and the amazing and blessed life that is that of the American ranching family.
I watched them walk away, the felt hats walking to the rows of waiting pickups, the men and women climbing in and driving home to bring in the calf crop and all that is to come in the heart of cow country.
And I swallowed hard in deep admiration and appreciation once again.
For the life that requires a cowboy hat.