This might end up being a long post, but it’s got to be that way.
As I write this, my friend TC Cheever is fighting his final battle against pancreatic cancer at Mass General. Word got out late last week that he’d received the worst news, and been told that he wouldn’t survive the weekend. His closest friends flew into Boston to gather around him. So far so normal.
But something started happening outside the hospital. Friends of TC began posting memories and photos, jokes, and videos about TC on Facebook and Twitter. A hashtag #WeLoveTC sprung up. People were changing their profile photos to pictures with TC. On Sunday morning, I went to Facebook and saw that nearly my entire News Feed was TC-related. An email group I’m a member of started a thread, discussing their TC memories. People who’d never met TC, but whose friends had, began to see this wave of happy remembrance pushing into their own news feed. I’m often cynical about social media, but what I saw this weekend was the absolute best thing I’ve ever seen online. The pure outpouring of love for a friend was awe-inspiring.
And in a room at Mass General, TC, with his girlfriend Gillian and his family and closest friends, saw it all. It was as if the room that they were in contained hundreds of people, toasting TC, not just sharing memories and saying goodbye, but pledging to do more to live the way their friend has.
That last thing, living like TC, is at the center of this, I think. The reason for the outpouring is simple: everybody loves TC Cheever. Everybody. TC is among the most relentlessly charming, likeable, encouraging, kind, creative, and funny people I’ve ever met. He’s got the biggest laugh in the world, and having him in your audience when you’re onstage is a blessing. He’s a fantastic musician. A great father. He’s the guy who cheers people up, picks people up, and kicks them in the butt to try again when things don’t work out right. And what people are talking about is being more like that.
Now, maybe you’re getting the impression that I’m a close friend of TC’s. I’m not. I’m just one of a horde who adores the man. I’ve known him since 2001, when I met him in the lobby of a basement theater in Boston, where one of his childhood friends was directing a show that another old friend was acting in. We spoke for maybe two minutes, and if I’d never seen him again, I’d remember TC as the center of that room. It’s been that way ever since. I’ve spent a decade in the ImprovBoston community, and in that decade, when TC is in a room, he’s been the room’s center. It’s not just that everybody seeks him out: he seeks everybody else out. He loves conversation, he loves checking in. He doesn’t leave if there’s a conversation left to be had. You don’t pass through the lobby when TC’s there. You stop and talk with TC, and it’s not a duty: it’s the best part of being there.
I only have one personal story about TC that others couldn’t tell better. In March of 2009, our friend Peter died. Peter’s husband Steve is one of my closest friends, and Steve asked me to spread the news among our friends at ImprovBoston. I spent the evening on the phone, calling everybody whose number I had, initiating a phone tree I didn’t know existed. I talked with dozens of people, and then late in the evening, I called TC. He’d heard the news by then. We talked for a couple minutes, and I asked him for a few phone numbers of people I still needed to call. He told me he’d call them himself. We said goodbye and I hung up. Five seconds later, my phone rang. It was TC, calling me back. He said, “I forgot to ask. How are YOU handling this? This can’t be easy to make these calls.” And you know what? It was really hard to make that call over and over. I mean, I don’t regret it and am not complaining about it: making those calls was really important and I’m gratified that I could be helpful to Steve and everybody else. So nobody needed to ask me the question that TC asked, but he was right: it wasn’t easy. And there was nothing to be done about it but to keep making them. But that TC asked was such a kindness. It was such a TC thing to think of at that moment, and I’m so grateful to him for it.
This morning, Rod Begbie told us he was going to run the Disney World Marathon next year, literally following in TC’s footsteps. Before I knew what I was doing, I did what TC would do. I said I was going to do it too. Minutes later, a team had formed. Next January, we’ll be running in Orlando in TC’s name, raising money, I hope, to fight pancreatic cancer. I’m in no shape to run a marathon. But it’s gonna happen. And if TC weren’t the one where TC is now, he’d be running with us. I know he would.
So, TC is leaving. He wasn’t supposed to make it through the weekend, but as of right now, he’s still here. And when I look at Facebook, I see that he’s still the center of the room.