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...cousin jim...



He 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 devoured....

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 my way....

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