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For my friend Jim

Spring is upon us. Season of brightness and rejuvenation. New birds sing from the ground and the air. But winter leaves, taking away another precious life. My friend Jim McGown passed away suddenly last week. It’s a big loss. Jim was a radiant man, a man of peace, filled with goodness, kindness, and love. His spirit wondered at the world- its beauty, grace, and abundance, as well as the perversity of man’s wars, social inequities, and the devastation of our lands by our own hands. He spoke out for freedom and the oppressed from his humble place in Athens, Georgia. He happened to have been my Boy Scouts den master, I suppose it’s called, and I have a vague memory of lasso-ing a fake bull in a church social hall. I’m pretty sure Jim arranged that. But more important than helping my nine-year-old self actualize any western dreams, we became friends and colleagues when I worked at University of Georgia for nearly three years. We connected, and my respect for Jim has always been deep and massive. We worked together loosely, but mainly I enjoyed our conversations and lunches discussing religion, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, travels, life, and all sorts of topics he was excited about and considering at the moment. Jim was one of the first and only “adult” colleagues with whom I established a meaningful relationship. You had to meet him. He was one of those few people whose care for the world, and every individual, was palpable and otherworldly. And he took action for the betterment of others. He wore his emotion on his sleeve and was a joy to spend time with. I would bump into him around town and always loved stopping, catching up, and getting into a great conversation. He spoke of having my parents and I over for a kosher dinner every so often. Sadly we just never set plans and made it over.

This weekend there was a memorial service for Jim, and it was one of the most powerful and beautiful services I’ve ever experienced. Todd and Evan, his sons, spoke, each in their own unique manner, and they captured his spirit and essence perfectly. Fitting, inspiring, and inspired tributes.

I’ll carry Jim’s memory on always, and am fortunate to have known this great man and been his friend. I hope I can bring to this world the same goodness and wonder that Jim shared. If you follow a faith tradition, consider Jim, as a Pastor said in his eulogy, a modern day Biblical prophet in Birkenstocks. His was the kindness of Abraham, and he loved the world and its people as Jesus exhorted unto his followers.

I wrote a song today for Jim. It’s not necessarily finished, but here’s where it stands, below. The final line about the peach tree is from Todd’s closing words.

I lost a friend/ we’ll never get him back again
and we’ll never hear him laugh again
I’ve lost a friend

Bright as the sky/ with his arms always open wide
and his heart it was Everest-sized
bright as the sky

*All the wreckage/ just a beautiful pain
and we may never be the same
but you taught us to be better
than our foolish ways

An artist holds a pen/ she draws forth the spirit within
she builds what cannot be built again
the artist and her pen

The words he once spoke/ read like a hidden note
echo like words from a long time ago
the words that he spoke

*All the wreckage/ just a beautiful pain
and we may never be the same
but you taught us to be better
than our foolish ways

Two weeks ago you put mulch below your peach tree
on a March afternoon
now the peach blossoms bloom

(outro):
When the saints go marching in oh when the saints go marching in
how I long to be in that number when the saints go marching in

Swing low sweet chariot coming for to carry me home

I’m gonna sing I’m gonna shout I’m gonna praise the lord out loud
when those gates are opened wide I’ll see our star up in the sky
I’m gonna sing I’m gonna shout I’m gonna sing

RIP Jim McGown. I’ll miss you.