I knew Robert Wilson as Cowboy. I met Cowboy outside of the library at the corner of Queen Street West and Cowan Avenue, where he was hanging out with a crew of people I knew from The Dale drop-in. He finished that first conversation with a certain hand gesture: one where he would wiggle his fingers and bring his arm back to signify that things were “groovy”. From that time on we used it to greet one another hello, though our goodbye would inevitably include a hug.

I learned quickly that Cowboy lived life hard. He was an admitted alcoholic who I got used to seeing inebriated. Drunk or sober, Cowboy could articulate that he was numbing difficult things and wanted to be able to stop. It was not uncommon for him to attend our little Sunday afternoon church service where he would pray aloud for healing. In some of his worst moments he would sit atop the small flight of stairs into the space away from the service, close enough to be safe, far enough to be entrenched in his own thoughts.

Cowboy became a good friend. He would always say, “girl, how ARE you today?” I knew he really wanted to know and would call me out if I didn’t give an honest answer. When I needed to share hard things he would look at me with compassion, nod his head and say, “in the end, in the end, in the end…things will be okay”. Coming from Cowboy, this sentiment was the opposite of trite. I knew that he understood the challenge of life and was pointing to our future hope.

The last time I had a conversation with Cowboy was near the beginning of June after a little memorial service we did for a community member’s father, a man none of us had met. It was a beautiful time, full of love and support for the bereaved. I sang ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ at the request of Cowboy. Afterwards he sang a couple of lines to me, unashamed of the tears that accompanied them. He spoke of how much he loved his friends and family, gave me a hug and left.

That night (I will spare the details of how) Cowboy ended up in hospital, unconscious and on full life support. Upon hearing the news the following day, I went to the hospital and met the family that surrounded him. Over the course of the next month and a half Cowboy was well cared for until his body couldn’t do it anymore. It is hard to believe he is gone.

I think about Cowboy a lot. I miss him. The Dale misses him, as do so many people in Parkdale. My prayer is that in the end, in the end, things have been made right for him. I live in hope that our goodbye is actually a groovy ‘see you later’, finger wiggling and all.

Toronto Star notice: Robert “Cowboy” Wilson Obituary

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5 thoughts on “Cowboy

  1. Dear Erin, Love, prayers and deepest sympathy are coming your way at this sad time with the passing of your friend Cowboy. I pray that healing will come to all who knew and loved him. May our Lord give you the comfort and peace that you need. God bless you in your ministry and my love and prayers continue to come your way. Much love, Irene Shields of Virginia

  2. Dear Erinn, I read a devotional yesterday about envy and then read about your wonderful relationship with your friend Cowboy and thought how fortunate you were to know him. I was telling my friend last night that it sounded to me that Cowboy showed the love of Jesus to you. Your writing made me cry. I am praying for you and all who knew Robert as you mourn his death, especially his Mom. Love Carolyn

  3. Dear Erinn, Thank You for sharing those wonderful wonderful words and love for our dear friend cowboy. It is so true you caught his essence and the true person he was. I like you knew cowboys ways. I have seen many losses thru friends along the way. But cowboy’s passing was so so tremendously heart felt. It was an eye opener even hearts of steal can be broken. He truly was so sincere in his ways, he did listen, and when he believed in you he would listen and reach out, in the end, in the end in the end . he was reaching out and you were there!, Thank god he was blessed, too confided in you and share his true feelings. I was very close to cowboy and i can hear in your words this things are true. thank you for the recognition he so well deserved. I offer my condolences to you, And remember there are so many people in your community that need and love and depend on your great works. just remember don’t give up!, and even our heavenly father took one day off. blessed be, Stevie

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