February has long been my least favorite month of the year. I’m the only one with that opinion. I’d like to think the greeting card industry invented Valentines Day not simply as a way to sell more cards, but an attempt to take the edge off the shortest, most miserable month of the year. Heck, even the corporate types at the National Football League extended the season so that the Super Bowl falls in February. I’d like to think they did it out of compassion for my fellow February sufferers, but I’m pretty sure that the motive was simply to line their pockets with increased ticket and ad revenue. Besides, it offers a distraction from those Christmas bills that just came due…
Despite the twenty-eight-day (Julian had a little too much wine while figuring out calendar calculations, so he threw in an extra day every four years – it’s a leap, I know) depression that is February, it does have one saving grace – Groundhog Day. I’m not really into the weather prognostications of a fat, furry little rodent, but the movie is one of the all-time cinematic greats. Grace, whether in secular or religious form is one of my favorite stories. It’s a reminder that we always have the opportunity to reinvent ourselves daily. We don’t have to settle for continuing to be a butthead.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to take February, and most things in life, with a dose of salt. Most of the things I’ve deemed tragic episodes in my life have turned out to be some of the biggest blessings. The inverse is true as well. The things I was ecstatic about turned out to be not so great. I’ve decided to just take it as it comes. As my friend Jim always reminded me, “Chop wood and let the chips fall where they may…”
It was February 15th, 2018 when I lost my friend Jim. I guess I didn’t really “lose” him. I have a pretty good idea he’s off fishing with Jesus and telling fisherman’s tales (no lying about the one that got away Jim, okay?). I simply wish he’d stayed here a bit longer. I guess it’s that way with all the people you love and care about: especially those who impacted you in a big way. Maybe that’s why February remains at the bottom of the list.
We held a celebration of Jim’s life on Tuesday at two o’clock in the afternoon on a mild February day. I’m not sure how many people were there, but it was a big crowd. He impacted the lives of so many. It was an eclectic bunch of church members and some not-so churchy- folks from recovery groups that Jim attended (seeing bikers sitting next to proper Baptist folks was a treat!). Before the service, I asked his wife, Sharon, if she had intentionally planned the service for Tuesday at two. She looked at me a bit puzzled and said “No, why?”
I had to laugh. Only Jim could pull this one off. I explained to her that when I would tell Jim about the difficult times in my life, he’d always say, “it’ll get better”.
“When Jim. When is it going to get better?”
He’d always reply somberly, “Tuesday at two o’clock. It’ll all be better on Tuesday at two o’clock”. He never knew what Tuesday or whether it would be two in the morning or two in the afternoon, but he was always right. It always got better. I didn’t always know the exact moment it happened, but it was always by Tuesday at two o’clock. I’m sure he still gets a good laugh out of that one…
There are three men who are my heroes. They all share the superpowers of unconditional love and wisdom – my father, my friend Edgar, and Jim. Each had their own way of using their superpowers. My father gave me solid values and wise counsel, which I usually failed to heed. When I finally surrendered my rebellious self-centeredness, he was awaiting my return like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son (and more than just once I can assure you). If God has a human face, I’m pretty sure He looks a lot like Dad.
My friend Edgar has been my friend, confidant, and mentor of sorts for almost three decades. He’s seen me at my very worst. He’s been there to dust me off and help me back on the proverbial horse more times than I’d care to admit. He believed in me when no one else would. Not many people have friends like Edgar. This blessing is not lost on me.
Then there’s Jim. A few Februarys have passed since that day in 2018. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear Jim’s voice telling me one of his “Jim-isms” – things he would say for whatever life might throw at me. “Jim-isms” were not always original, some came from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, some from older guys in recovery programs, and some were just time-tested West Texas sayings he’d grown up with. Somehow they all became Jim’s.
While the list of “Jim-isms” is long, there are two or three that stand out above the rest. First, there’s “This thing is too damn simple to be taken so damn seriously”. That was often coupled with “Son, don’t complicate the corn flakes”. Quite trying to be so intense. There’s nothing new under the sun. Above all, quit trying to make the simple so damn difficult. Remember Occam’s Razor- “the best solution to any problem is usually the simplest one.”
The other “Jim-ism” that hits home on a daily basis (and usually several times a day) is this, “When it’s over it will all be okay. If it ain’t okay, then it’s not over.” When I listen to the torrent of news about hate-filled people doing hateful things, about systemic and brutal racism, and about Christian Nationalist who blatantly misrepresent God in their pursuit of power and hegemony I have to remember this “Jim-ism” above all. It’s the one that reminds me that God is in control, that love always wins, and the arc of justice may be longer than I’d like, but it is an arc that is leading to the Kingdom of God.
Lately, there has been a lot of talk among my friends and neighbors about how tired everyone is – tired of COVID, tired of grief, tired of the police shootings and oft repeated news of insane mass shootings, and most of al, tired of the vitriol and division we live with every day. Faith and Jim-isms tell me to remind you all that:
“When it’s over it’ll all be okay and if it ain’t okay, then it’s not over” and “It’ll be better Tuesday at 2:00”