Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Man from Another Time

When I describe my neighbor Jim, I sum him up with the words, “He’s like a man from another time.

Now I would say he’s a kind of bodhisattva, his joy glowing through the yellow finches chattering in the tops of the trees in the garden. Perhaps he's in the owl who called from the branches near my front door when I met his brothers the night after his death. Or in the crow who cried outside my office window for hours the next day.

Like the tiny finches, musical notes that can’t be seen but are heard all around, Jim will always be with us here on Partington Ridge.

The Rosicrucians believe that the soul reincarnates every 140 years or so. So I wonder: will Pink Floyd be around 100 years from now, when Jim comes back? I know he would like that.

Why is it when someone dies, there seems to never have been enough time to have completely loved and enjoyed them, to have fully savored their unique spark? Jim never told us how bad his cancer was, and I imagine he downplayed the gravity of what he was facing so he could continue to enjoy the love and optimism that came his way from us.

In Big Sur we are “social hermits”: we treasure our privacy, nurturing ourselves with views of Nature, both expansive and intimate. Many of us also shine in sharing the majesty of our gardens with a circle of loving friends. Jim did this, and for years much laughter and joy flowed from the little house on the edge of the cliff where he lived.

Jim was smart, Mensa smart, but he was modest and low key. A true bachelor, he was a little shy with the ladies. His brother revealed his genius IQ just a few days ago. Jim’s mother related how he was only five classes short of a degree in biochemistry, but decided he didn’t want to be part of the corporate world, opting for a free-spirited life instead.

Jim had a gentle, wise laugh, perfect olive skin and 70’s rock star hair. He would probably have “cleaned up pretty” as we say in my neighborhood. He could have worked in the music industry, worn a suit, had a wife and kids, a house in the hills. But he chose the top of Partington Ridge, a life of friends watching epic sunsets over the ocean, sports on the big screen TV, and a little dog named Vinnie.

The range and depth of Jim’s musical knowledge was impressive, his love of music profound. He was a connoisseur of sound, and the premier audio guru for musical events here in Big Sur. To his great joy, he was able to do this work the Monterey Jazz Festival for the past 6 years.

“Sit here” he said to me recently, pointing to the space between him and his friend on the leather couch in his living room / kitchen / bedroom / entertainment center. “This is the best space for hearing sound, “ he added, and I agreed, the wattage from the huge speakers and all the old-fashioned sound equipment making my body vibrate. “This is the Church of Analog” he smiled.

And now as to how he died: the way no vital, well-loved and hardworking person in the prime of their life should die in this country -- uninsured.

Jim fell asleep on his couch last Tuesday night, and slept all night long, rare for him these days. In the morning he was still dreaming peacefully, the cancer swiftly taking over his body like a dark tide. Quietly and in solitude, he slipped away. There are those who would say that, given the kind of cancer he had, that his non-medicalized death was a kind of “blessing.”

But let me tell you a truth: Jim was not ready to die, did not want to die, and would not consider his death at 47, a few short days before his mother came to see him, as any kind of blessing.

The night before, I stopped in to visit. We went over his Obamacare PCIP “Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan” paperwork. He was excited to have been approved for coverage, which kicked in the first of January, in time for the surgery he had scheduled at UCSF on January 4.

He had taken some pain medication, and was laughing with a lovely young woman who sat with him on his couch. The overall feeling was bittersweet: sad and overwhelmed but also happy to be enjoying the evening.

In the previous weeks Jim shared with me his feelings towards Esalen Institute, where he worked for the past 8 years.

Esalen, Jim said, a non-profit center for the “human potential movement” (and here he rolled his eyes) had over the years prevented him from receiving health insurance. That was the word he used: “prevented”. He was told to work less than 30 hours per week so he would not qualify for this essential benefit.

He waited, he said, through different administrations there, to receive a benefits package. “They were about to give us health insurance,” he said, “ and then they bought Abalone Gulch instead.” (A property to the north of Esalen.) He felt betrayed, and that these actions ultimately deprived him of a fighting chance against his illness.

Jim did not seek out the care he needed months ago, because, in part, he was concerned that if he was sick, he would have a “pre-existing condition” and not qualify fast enough or at all for any kind of insurance coverage.

Tragically, he turned out to be very, very sick. In December he was hoping to receive a position with benefits that had recently opened in his department. He had support from his colleagues in this effort. But, in what Jim felt to be an astonishing coup de grace, Esalen completely abandoned him by denying him the job, the benefits, and any other assistance at all.

There is something especially heart-breaking about telling someone you love that they’re “going to be OK” and then realizing that, in fact, they’re not. My neighbor, my soul brother, who loved his life, his home, his family and friends, who looked forward to many more joyous years on this planet, is gone.

The gentle guest who joined us for years of dinner parties and holiday celebrations (always late, with a big smile on his face and a nice bottle of wine under his arm) will not grace us with his presence again. We pray that he is resting in peace, surrounded by celestial sound.

Oh dearest, sweet, Jim. Jimbo. We miss you, so very, very much.

Jim, and his mega-watt smile
Jim, the day we all returned home after the Basin Complex Fire, 2008

Photos by Linda Sonrisa