Tuesday, May 01, 2007
We accept that all humans die – A dull, sluggish stream, usually ignored, runs through the property, feeding the roots of rugged plants. You watch and are saddened by the deaths of those ahead of you in the line of all who must die, your own death preventing you from knowing the order of those who will die after you. It is part of the general fabric of life, the dark threads, and you have no choice but to be resigned.
But sometimes the fabric is split by a stroke of lightning – the sudden death of a human being, and perhaps the term “human being” should be reserved only for one of its true exemplars like Jim Forrest who has just died. You could say the loss is felt more profoundly with Jim's death because the human race itself has lost one of its best: I could not help but think of Cleopatra’s speech with Anthony's death in Shakespeare’s play:
The crown o’ the earth doth melt….
The soldier’s pole [star] is fall’n; young boys and girls
Are level now with men; the odds is gone,
And there is nothing left remarkable
Beneath the visiting moon.
Jim would be quietly amused by my elevating him in this manner. He was like a redwood tree, with a big and solid identity, in no need of inflation through flattering praise, so much a presence that his sudden absence is a great shock. While I might describe him and his death as that lightning flash that has split the very fabric of life, he is at the same time the lightning that fuses that split, and inspires us, and heals us: To know that one man could be so important to those around him proves that there can be great human beings in a world where so many of our kind made us despair of human decency. Jim was proud and incredibly aware of African-American tradition (especially -- with him and his family -- the tradition of the Black Cowboy). His house is full of reminders of the pain and triumph involved with African-American history; among his object, a ledger surviving from early slavery times, itemizing the sale of Africans on the auction block. He was a voracious reader. In his retirement, he traveled around the earth, confident that he was a person who would be accepted automatically anywhere he went. For, finally, there is the fact of his physical and spiritual presence, a tall man, even-tempered, ever soft-spoken, with an aura of loving gentleness, and to have known him was to feel comforted by his presence. Seeing him stand there in the mind’s eye, remembering the way he talked, must bring tears over his going away, but it will always be a great comfort to know that such a man may exist. There must be others like him on the earth. Until I meet another, thanks for your loving kindness, Jim. May his partner, Bernie Granda, be comforted.