Who are your heroes?
I vividly recall asking myself this question in my freshmen year of college. At first, my cynical New Englander self thought: I have none. But I thought harder and realized: Mr. Jim is my hero.
My relationship with Jim changed once I started thinking of him as my hero. I sometimes felt more like I was studying him than spending time with him, trying to figure out what made him so incredible. Though, perhaps I am not alone in this; it’s hard to imagine anyone spending time with him without obsessively thinking: How are you so incredible?
I am so grateful that my son Toren was able to meet Mr Jim a couple of weeks ago.
Like every time I see him, Jim surprised me in this visit. He was obviously great with Toren, and everything you would expect. But at one point, Jim randomly took off his shoes and started pulling off his socks. It was so out of nowhere, I thought: Uh-oh, Jim has really lost it. But then he revealed 10 freshly painted, bright pink toenails.
Jim had a pedicure recently and decided to get his nails painted, for the first time ever. He was proud, and wanted to show us.
Looking back, this visit was so Jim. Jim’s favorite song was: This little light of mine / I’m gonna let it shine. He let his light shine that day.
I would like to share a few of the ways that Jim light shined on me, a few of the things that made Jim my hero:
More than anyone I know, Jim enriched himself by giving of himself. Our relationship initially developed because many of his days were spent volunteering in my mother’s classroom. I think only Jim’s partner, Ginny, knows the true extent of his volunteerism. It seemed like Jim was always off to a classroom, or the shelter, or the church, or visiting the ‘old people’ in a nursing home who were younger than him.
I sometimes get the impression that chronic volunteers are trying to build their resume for their interview with God. I never felt that way with Jim. His volunteering was integral to his faith, but mostly it was what he liked to do. I know that Mr. Jim greeted God with an embrace, then asked if there’s anything he could help out with.
I will never volunteer as much as Mr. Jim, but because of him, I will volunteer.
Perhaps half of the conversations that my family had about Mr Jim started with: Can you believe that he walked that far [or golfed that well]?
Through all of his treatment, not to mention his age, Jim remained supremely active, shooting his age several times in the two years (3?) and walking until the very end. I have many feelings about golf’s role in our society, but I golf almost every time I visit home because of Jim.
It takes so little for me to decide to skip being active. Not even his ‘walk with cancer’ could stop Jim from remaining active.
It feels strange to be writing “Jim” so much —I almost never say “Jim” without also saying “Ginny”.
Jim and Ginny are true partners. The resonance of their alliterative names mirrors the resonance of their endearing spirits. Arriving at one their themed dinners, where Ginny would create masterpiece meals from a particular region or matching a particular theme, you would pass into the bubble of their partnership, where the thrum of their connection was almost audible, and you would feel safe.
I refer to Audra as my “partner,” rather than my wife, in part due to Jim and Ginny’s example. We love you Ginny.
Jim had the childlike joy that I would typically associate with a Buddhist monks, but my sense is— and I may be out of my depth here — but my sense is that Jim was not unfamiliar with deep sadness.
I believe that, over time, Jim tamed his sadness, allowing sadness to be a part of him, but on his terms. It’s OK to be sad. Be sad. But also, give of yourself. Be active. Love your partner.
This is the part of Jim that I am most curious about, and I wish I had time to know more, because this is the lesson I am more interested in learning.
These are a few of the things that Jim taught me about living. Sadly… but also, happily… over the past few years, Jim has taught me much about dying.
I am fortunate enough to have limited experience with dying. I haven’t tried it myself, and few around me have. Jim set the example with his brave openness in discussing his coming death, and his vision for how wanted to die.
Despite it all, in the end, we still weren’t ready. But he was. And that’s how it had to be.