Everyone has a hero, or at least someone who influenced them in a positive way. Sometimes our hero’s are people we don’t know like athletes, actors, and sometimes even politicians. If we’re lucky our hero is someone we know; I’m one of the lucky.
We live life thinking about missed opportunities, the “what ifs” and the “if only” or selfishly “what’s in it for me?” Recently I ran into an old friend who just by his presence reminded me that life can ignore the “ifs and buts” and can be cruel. James suffers from Picks disease, or Frontotemporal Dementia, which is quickly robbing him of his future and sadly erasing his past. In this life when something is unknown to us we are frightened of it. Often we are so frightened of the unknown that we avoid it, not helping and just practicing self preservation. Before my friend James dies and he will die from this monster, I wanted to write about what I’ve learned from him in my thirty-seven years on this planet.
In my photo’s I have one of our kindergarten class, I being the smallest with my mop of blonde hair and I swear it’s true, James being the cutest. James being a farm kid meant that he liked school more then most because it was easier then the farm. In my pre-teen years I helped with hay, so I can say that even in that short time I knew farming wasn’t for me. James although quiet and somewhat shy, was always ahead in maturity. I don’t know if it was the responsibilities of the farm or just a gift. Specifically there are a few moments that left a permanent mark on my life.
In sixth grade James and his family traveled to Texas to view President Johnson’s library. While they were taking in the sites in comes President Carter. To most sixth graders this is not a big deal, to James it was the biggest. While telling the story to our class he shed tears of pride of having seen the leader of the free world. Some kids laughed, some sat without interest, I shed a tear knowing that anything that made James cry must have been a big deal.
One of the most foolish things I ever did came the next year, seventh grade. As James was getting off the bus one slushy morning; I nailed him upside the head with a well packed slush ball, hard as a rock and twice as dangerous. I ran off laughing not thinking I did anything wrong, after all it was winter. James met me in the hall and picked me up and slammed me into the lockers. First this was recognition from me that man is this kid strong and second, oh boy what’s he going to do? He said through gritted teeth, “Don’t you ever embarrass me again.” It wasn’t, “that hurt”, or “could’ve taken and eye out”, it was don’t embarrass me. Respect is all I would ever have for James from that point on.
In high school the focus for most was fashion from parachute pants for guys and big hair for the ladies. For James it was a button down shirt and just an overall clean appearance. Weekends meant parties for me, and so did at long last our graduation. At our graduation blast James showed up with a Pepsi in one hand and a handshake and pat on the back for all and most importantly to share in our celebration. I don’t recall him ever being at any other parties. There are pictures of that day, us fools with our beer and James with his Pepsi; if anyone has one with James down on one knee in the center of the group, please send one my way.
James went on to be very successful in his education, career and as a leader in his community. Even when faced with adversity whether it being judged for being too young in his elected position or for his portrayal in the news media; James always handled it with class. That is before the Picks kicked in. Look back, you’ll know it’s true.
I’m as guilty as anyone who when we heard he had a terminal illness I shied away from any contact, shameful. The stories spoke of him not remembering things, needing help with self-control and just not being the man we all knew. When I saw him the other day I was lost on what to say or do. As always it was James with the class, he said, “Hi Brian”, I said “Hi Jimmy”, and then I went home and cried.
Too often we write off people because they are not what they once were. I’m ashamed of myself for not being a friend. In what ever time James has left I will be a
friend to the man who gained my respect by showing me my lack of respect for him. With Pepsi in hand I guarantee you will see me soon my hero, my friend.
To support more stories like this.