SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Tommy Raskin played jazz piano. He always made time for the lonely kids in class, disdained gossip, loved animals and believed they have rights. He won prizes at Amherst, wrote poetry, drew people to veganism and went on to Harvard Law. But this young man, with what his parents called a riotously outrageous and relentless sense of humor, began to be tortured later in his 20s by a blindingly painful and merciless disease called depression. Tommy Raskin was 25 when he took his own life at his home on the day of New Year's Eve. His father, Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, joins us.
Congressman, thank you for making time for us. Our condolences to you and your wife, Sarah, and your family.
JAMIE RASKIN: Thank you for inviting me to talk to you, Scott.
SIMON: Tell us about your son, who you and your wife called a radiant light in this broken world?
RASKIN: Well, Tommy was remarkable from the beginning. He had a photographic memory and, like some other kids in our family, you know, knew all the presidents and vice presidents in order. But it wasn't his mind that marked him so extraordinary. It was his heart. The stories of his love and compassion are absolutely astounding.
We got a letter from a neighbor whom we don't know super well. And she said we had no reason to notice or remember this, but there was a kid who felt like he was the only person in the school who didn't have a prom date. And Tommy learned of it and then said, well, rather than having people go on dates, why don't we just have everybody come over to our house for dinner? And she said that her son never forgot it. And we've been hearing stories like this ever since it happened. I mean, Tommy - he felt all of the pain and the suffering in the world, which is how, of course, he found his way quickly to vegetarianism. Nobody in our family was a vegetarian. And now everybody is.
SIMON: Help us understand his feeling for animals.
RASKIN: Well, the funny thing is we have a bunch of dogs in our (unintelligible). We are a very big dog family. And Tommy loved them, but he was allergic to dogs and cats.
RASKIN: So he had a special relationship with them. You know, He would take Benadryl or whatever to be around them. And he would pet them sort of by gently touching the very top of their heads. And he would say, Potter (ph) or Toby (ph), you're such a fine sentient being.
RASKIN: He drew the line very strictly at sentient beings. And Tommy, who loved eating - he actually ate what are called bivalves, like mussels and stuff like that because they are not sentient, so they don't suffer. And so, you know, he took very seriously feelings.
SIMON: And, Mr. Raskin, you went back to Congress this week of all weeks. Your colleagues received you with great love, though, didn't they?
RASKIN: They did, indeed. And I have been moved by what our colleagues have said. And Speaker Pelosi has been unbelievably supportive and Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn, but also Liz Cheney, who said some really beautiful things about my family. And a lot of Republicans have reached out. And I tell you, that has been a solace and a comfort to me that, at this time, with the ugliest possible division where we've got a violent, seditious mob invading the Capitol that there is still enough decency and humanity that we can share each other's pain in a situation.
SIMON: What would you like us to take from Tommy Raskin into our own lives now?
RASKIN: Well, you know, you couldn't be in his presence and say a negative thing about people. He didn't mind gossip if it was good gossip.
RASKIN: It was nasty, Tommy would say, excuse me, but it's hard to be a human. And then that would be the end of that. You know, he lived and acted as though the truth were true. The things that we say are our values and principles, he knew they only have meaning if we act as if they're true, if we make them real. And so we can't let them be empty rhetoric. We will figure out a path of life going forward, Scott, where we keep Tommy very close to our heart, and we will fight for every single thing he asks us to.
SIMON: Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, father of Tommy Raskin, thank you so much for being with us, sir.
RASKIN: Thank you. And the rest of my family sends love to you, Scott, and to everybody at NPR.
(SOUNDBITE OF RANNAR SILLARD'S "WINTER PASSING")
SIMON: If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255 - or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting 741-741.
(SOUNDBITE OF RANNAR SILLARD'S "WINTER PASSING")
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