Always engaged in life, and always bursting with an opinion on everything, especially the government and the way he felt it ignored the poor, Jim was fascinating to be with. He was a talented writer, and not just of irascible letters to the editor. He had a published book, but it was his poetry that I loved the best. April is poetry month, and it was fitting that his birthday fell when the world was re-awakening. He would fly to Chicago to a poetry conference every year and for a week immerse himself in listening to others and to his own inner muse.
This man with a doctorate in English from Notre Dame taught high school English in a very tough neighborhood in New Jersey by choice. Nothing pleased him more than to transform a young person's life by pulling the beauty out of their soul with pliers and holding it up for them and the world to see. These kids had no idea there was a hint of poetry in them until he taught them to dig for it and revel in it and use it as a tool to express their pain and to celebrate their strength.
More proud of his Irish heritage than anyone I have ever met, he would throw open his home the weekend before Saint Patrick's Day every year and start baking Irish soda bread at four in the morning. The smell of corned beef and cabbage permeated the neighborhood, and the laughter and Guinness flowed like the waters of the River Liffey. On the few occasions when we were able to get down there from Boston I would lead the singing and my son would play tunes on his violin, although for the day we called it a fiddle. The party was legendary. I quietly ignored Saint Patrick's Day this year, and Jim would not have approved, but my heart just wasn't in it.
So happy birthday, dear friend. You've had some company from my circle join you in recent months. I hope you are all well and happy and singing and blissful. I still have work to do down here, apparently, but I carry you in my heart every day and know that when I've finished my chores I'll join the party up there, and it will put even your amazing celebrations to shame.