new this month
lived up in Cobram, a sleepy river town - in a nation
w/few rivers - and he was a draftsman.... That’s
all any public record would have of him. But -
to my mind - he was afire w/ideals - and ideas - and,
to me, in retrospect...he was my truest mentor upon
the course that I have chosen in this life....
We met only occasionally: me - perched upon a
stool, amidst the blueprints that were his mundane life
- as my father & he talked politics & ideas...w/an
intensity I’d never seen before.
Jim was a rural intellectual - a rare breed, but not
one so uncommon as we urbans so blithely assume. He’d
travelled...but, the call of family was too strong,
and so he’d returned - trimming his ambitions,
and living half in locality & family...and half
in the world of the books and magazines which he ceaselessly
My father always said that Jim was wasted in Cobram...that
he could’ve had a real impact - and reputation
- if’n he’d remade himself as an urban intellectual.
This was undoubtedly true - because, there was a fire
& incicive grace to his intellect...fiercely egalitarian
but also anti-ideological, that would’ve shone
through in any forum large enough to matter....
My father, I suspect, might be dismayed by the lessons
I drew from this.... Part of Jim’s problem was
his choice of career...as, in his day, no one could
survive w/out gainful employment. The lesson I took
from this was that one should chose a career that fully
embodied all of one’s strengths...and not compromise
in any way with the exercise of same. Sadly, this has
made me unemployable...but, has also delivered - over
time - a body of work that I’ll easily be able
to place, once the vagaries of reputation have turned
But...we’ve badly strayed from the point.
Jim was a natural, someone predestined to have a major
role in the world of politics and ideas...whose true
career was forestalled by his family-feeling & inherent
modesty. I only met him in his old age...but, even then,
I was struck by the greatness of the man - and saddened
by the truth of father’s observations about him.
And yet, perhaps, I was deeply wrong to dismiss his
old age in such terms. Because...there is a much-derided
word for what the old can offer. And that word is “wisdom”.
Jim was not soured by his failure, should we see it
so.... He’d made his choices, and - contra my
father - he was happy with same. Happy to partition
off the life of the mind from his profession - and his
family ties - and endure his isolation in this respect.
We may regret this...but, we should not begrudge him
his choices, nor devalue his life in the cause
of some misplaced idealism.
Jim’s life - and choices - are not mine.... But
I have learned much from his wisdom, and I also feel
that he would agree with the choices I have made - in
my time - to pursue ideas, sometimes at the expense
of family, and to eshew all easy paths to success.
He was a sport...as there were, sadly, none others in
his family w/his fire & imagination. And, by the
time that I had - after trauma & retreat - found
mine own vocation...he had died. I didn’t
even get the chance to attend his funeral, as my father
wasn’t aware of just how much I’d valued
the man...so I only found out about his death - in passing
- months later....
But, I take pride in our distant kinship.... And, should
my ambitions one day bear belated fruit, I promise to
erect a monument to Jim - whose grave I have not yet
seen. Because the greatness of the man was also in his
failings...his modesty was the capstone of his wisdom
- unlike most more celebrated intellects - and he never
mistook ideology for fact...preferring to always see
life from the viewpoint of its victims....
And this, I will continue to treasure, as the lodestone
of my existence.
John Henry Calvinist