My Roger

Two weeks ago today, I lost a dear friend.   Roger Moss was my therapist at a pivotal time in my young adulthood, and became one of the most important teachers and beloved mentors of my life.  While our clinical relationship came to its natural “closure” when I left L.A. in the late ’90’s, Roger remained a touchstone for me always, up through the last time we visited last summer.  He had a way of relating that was, from the very start of knowing him, so familiar, so warm, so intelligent, so full of love. Though I didn’t fully believe he was right until years later, it always made me feel better to hear him say that the only thing wrong with me was that I thought there was something wrong with me.

Among his other pursuits, Roger was a Professor of Psychology at California State University Northridge for over forty years, but you’ll find virtually no information about him on the web —  he intentionally kept a low profile because his political activities in his later years were, shall we say, rather radical.  But just because someone doesn’t show up in Google, I know now, doesn’t mean that they haven’t had a HUGE impact on the world.  As the notice of his upcoming memorial gathering at CSUN says, “He was beloved by thousands of students and faculty whose lives have been notably changed by his classes, conversations, and film discussions where he challenged fundamental assumptions and transformed lives. He will be truly missed.”

Roger IS truly missed. And yet, he is with me even now.

There are so many “Roger-isms” that I’ve integrated into my life. I pull them out from time to time, sometimes for myself, but more frequently these days for a friend in need.  Some classics include “Love takes many forms,” “Potential is deadly,” and “Don’t be attached to outcomes.”

He would often tell me stories about his own life, I guess as a way of relating and of learning together.  I don’t remember much from the stories, to be honest, but I remember this one punch line he repeated often, where his little Rōshi said to him in a thick Japanese accent: “Rogah, you think too much.”  I often repeat that line when I find myself getting my panties in a bundle about something or other… sometimes it’s best to stop thinking too much and just be.  “Rogah, you think too much.”

When I was going through some of my darkest times, Roger would say to me at the end of a session, “What are you going to do next?” When I left his office, what was literally next?  So I’d walk through my evening – I’m going to drive home, make dinner, do the dishes, call a friend, get ready for bed, etc. One little step at a time.  Stay present.  When times are tough, this little practice helps me immeasurably.

Roger was authentic before it was hip.  He introduced me to David Whyte‘s poetry by giving me a cassette copy of “Close to Home,” and instructed me to listen to the words by just letting them wash over me.  Amazingly powerful.

He read Mary Oliver‘s “Wild Geese” to me for the first time, and I learned, “You do not have to be good…”.

I have a piece of paper folded into thirds and then again in half, which I keep in the sleeve of my FranklinCovey planner.  On it, Roger wrote out a line from a poem by Antonio Machado. He might have been writing it from memory, as I’m not sure the Spanish is exactly right, but here’s what he wrote:

Caminante,
no hay camino,
El camino se hace
al andar.

Wanderer
There are no roads
The Way becomes manifest
upon walking.

In June 2000, I cycled from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the California AIDS Ride. On the seventh and final day of the ride, I found Roger in front of his apartment on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, cheering on all the riders with a handwritten sign that read, “Almost there!! Great job!” What an amazing gift he gave to so many.

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Roger wasn’t well when I saw him last year.  He and I spent a couple hours together in late August in Ventura, where he had been living (and as far as I know, still was). Over a cup of coffee at Pete’s Breakfast House, he told me he’d gotten carbon dioxide poisoning from the place he was living in, and it had almost killed him… and it was clear, he was having a really tough time recovering.  He actually looked really old and not well… overweight, low energy… not the spry, youthful man he was, well into his sixties (he just turned 70 last August). And still, the same Roger with those same beautiful blue eyes, wanting to talk about the same matters of the heart in such a genuine and beautiful way.

Thank you, Roger, for all that you offered of yourself to me, to so many others, and to this planet that you cared so much about.  May you be of blessed memory.

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21 thoughts on “My Roger

  1. Hilary,
    I was saddened and surprised to hear of Roger Moss’ passing. I had him for classes seven years ago and he forever changed how I viewed psychology. There is not more than few days that pass that I do not think of a ‘Rogerism’. His enthusiasm for life and the psyche have forever changed me and how I am today as a therapist, and he has become an anima figure for me. I saw him last year at a CSUN lecture after six years, and feel blessed I was able to let him know the impact he had on me and undoubtedly many others. I am attending his memorial at CSUN this Friday.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.
    He will be dearly missed.

    Johanna (Axelrod) Hays

    • Johanna –
      Of course, I had no idea you knew Roger too, but it just goes to show how many of us were impacted by his life. I wish I could be there Friday… I’m sure it will be amazing.

  2. gorgeous and so fitting. thanks for this memorial to a wise and wonderful man. i will miss him, and he shaped my life in so many indelible ways.
    love and light,
    Neil

  3. Your words are eloquent in their simplicity – which sounds like a reflection of the man you’re writing about.

    After reading this article, I jotted down six words that immediately come to mind when I think of you, which are perspective, authenticity, compassion, wisdom, joy and love. Your tribute to Roger gives me insight into his influence on your life.

    Peace and Love,
    John

  4. Hi Hilary, I was a student of Roger many years ago. I still have trouble believing he’s gone. How did you find out about his passing? And do you know the cause?

    Thank you so much,

    Laurie

    • I heard from a friend who forwarded me an email she received from CSUN’s Dept. of Psychology. Roger’s memorial gathering will be this coming Friday, June 15, at 4 p.m., Northridge Center, University Student Union (if you Google Roger Moss memorial gathering you’ll find it). The cause of death hasn’t been reported, but as I wrote, he had been quite ill over the last couple years.

  5. Hi Hilary- What an amazing man-sorry I did not get to know him as well. Thanks for sharing and his philosophies are so true! It’s the journey not the destination! 🙂 Thanks for sharing! 🙂 Andrew Manning

  6. Hello…I found this beautifully written piece after doing a Google search for our beloved, Roger Moss. I had him for both his Psych classes and undoubtly he has changed my life forever, as he did with so many others. The sound of his voice alone was enough to calm one down and make your heart still, and his words, well, they did magic. Hearing of his umtimely loss has left me with much confusion and grief. And now, learning of the way he passed makes me angry that such a devastating thing happened to such an amazing human being. I would like to ask of you if you would be kind enough to post/share the “Roger-isms” you have. Unfortunately, I only remember a few as the class was several years ago. This would mean SO much to me and I would greatly appreciate it not just now but for years to come. I truly believe Roger was an angel in disguise. Such a pure, good, delicate heart, with a mind full of intelligence, wisdom, and virtue. It hurts me knowing he is gone but I know one thing for sure: He has done much good for our society, and our world. I am not the same because of him and I know many who can attest to this. Thank you so much in advance.
    Tina Sammadi

    • The Roger-ism that has stayed with me personally and one that I share with patients is the following;
      “Don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re too sensitive. You’re just too sensitive for them to handle”.

  7. I just found out today that Roger passed in May. He also changed my life and was angel who saved me. Unfortunately I missed the memorial service but I wish I knew where he is burried so I could pay a visit.

    Thank you
    Mitra

  8. Mitra did you ever find out where he was buried. It’s been almost a year and I have been wanting to pay him a visit but wasn’t able to find any information and the Psychology Dept. doesn’t release any information either.

    Thank You,

    Shushan

  9. Oh my god. I just saw this. I never found out when he was buried but I do think about him often. It was meant for me to go back to this and feel his soul.

    Mitra

  10. Hi there, I was randomly thinking of Dr. Moss and came across your blog. What an exceptional professor he was! He inspired
    me to become a therapist and the lessons he taught were some of the most important in my life. I’m a professor as well now and I find myself borrowing Rogerisms all the time. Catch you on the other side, Dr. Moss.

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