Sunday, January 02, 2005

Jim, My Teacher

(c) Andy Ternay
  • Jim at my Handfasting, October 26, 2003. He has already been diagnosed as having cancer and has undergone about six to eight months of chemo already. He's a tough bastard, the chemo never really slowed him down. Unfortunately his cancer is like him: tough. It outlasted chemo, surgery and radiation.

  • I met Jim at church (Unitarian Universalist, primarily Pagan) sometime in early 2003. My first impression of him was somewhat confusing. He seeemed very shy and when he spoke he used a gentle self-deprecating sense of humor. Yet for a shy person, he was always in the center of everything. It seemed that if a task needed doing, you'd generally find Jim in the middle of doing it. He was calm, quick to laugh and always seemed to have time to lend an ear.

    Further contradictions in his personality emerged. Jim was a Pagan who did not practice Magick and claimed he could not visualize energy, a claim he still maintains. Jim was a hard worker who had just retired while in his fifties. A former four pack a day smoker who now ran marathons. A nudist with impeccable taste in clothing. Jim was just an interesting guy to hang around with.

    It was amazing how quickly Jim became a part of my life. I'd notice when he wasn't at church and wonder where he was, after ritual I'd look around for him to talk to.

    Jim introduced me to a whole new concept for living: voluntary simplicity. The idea is seductive and simple; decide what your real priorities are and shed the things in your life that keep you from enjoying those things that are important to you. Moving away from materialism to relationships. Getting rid of the things you don't use. Avoiding conspicuous consumption. Don't buy an H2 when what you need is a minivan.

    Jim's early retirement was a byproduct of the idea of voluntary simplicity. Work kept him from doing some of the things he wanted to do, Jim had accumulated enough retirement, his house was paid off...why not retire? So Jim did.

    The little Unitarian Universalist church we attended had a nasty, dirty little secret. Attending the church was a very spiritually ugly, scary man who we'll call Alan for the purposes of this post. Alan is a Nazi. A real, honest-to-goodness Jewery is destroying the world Nazi. The first time I met him, Alan seemed okay, just a little odd, and odd people are relatively common when Pagans gather. I simply assumed I misunderstood what he had said when he claimed to channel the spirit of has Great Uncle, an SS officer. I did not misunderstand and I should have had more faith in my ears.

    Alan brought his guns with him to church. Please understand this guy is a time bomb; Alan's girlfriend is a Chinese princess from Atlantis with green skin. Alan does not have a firm grip on reality and he is filled with hatred. Now, you might think that I, the big liberal activist would have confronted Alan on his intolerance and racial hatred. but I did not do so. I was frightened to do so, I was concerned what people would think of me. I failed to have the courage of my convictions.

    Jim stood up for his convictions and confronted Alan, both on his intolerance and about the fact that he brought guns to church and liked to threaten people who disagreed with him. I was there for the final confrontation, at a board meeting. It was obvious that Jim was frightened, but that did not stop him from speaking his mind and then leaving the church for good when it became clear that the church preferred the Nazi. All of the members of my coven left the church that night and that is how our coven, TotemGrove was formed.

    Jim did this the week after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Right when he probably most needed a spiritual community, he walked away from the one he was a part of. Jim has principles and values and he sticks with them. Me? I watch what Jim does so that I will learn how to have the courage of my convictions, the way he does.

    I have now watched Jim fight cancer through radiation, chemo, surgery to remove a lung, and more chemo. Jim chose an elk as his totem animal because of the endurance elk demonstrate. I think he picked the right totem. He has soldiered on and on through this. He rarely complains and when asked about the discomfort, he acknowledges it without making a big deal out of it. He still chooses to avoid being the center of attention.

    Yesterday, TotemGrove met at Jim's house. It was a relaxing, fun, informal deal. John, Jim's son is there to help take care of him. I like seeing the two of them together. I gather they have not always been close, but something is happening there that feels good to me.

    Jim said it would be the last time the whole group meets at his house, that he just doesn't have the energy any more. We, the other members of TotemGrove, don't want to accept this and have prevailed upon him to let us meet there again. I am glad but I can see this is only a very temporary postponement of the inevitable. Intellectually I have accepted this, but emotionally, I am in denial. I don't feel anything and I am very numb.

    Christian author and psychiatrist M. Scott Peck wrote in one of his books, I can't find it now, that life is the process of letting go. In my twenties I would have thought that was a bunch of bullshit. No more. I feel the truth of those words deep inside my bones. This too shall pass, and anything may fit into the description of the word this.

    I wanted to end this on some grand thought or inspirational words, but they are not there right now. All I can say is this: I love my friend Jim, I am glad he is a part of my life, having him as a part of my spiritual life has been very important to me. I am a better man for it. Thank you, Jim. Thank You, Goddess, just for letting him be a part of my life.