Saturday, December 19, 2009

In memory of a friend

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.

From a headstone in Ireland

Day 9
The 12 Days of Christmas at the DI

We held a memorial service yesterday for our friend, James Bannerman. James left this world at 12:45 am on Tuesday, December 8. I wrote about James' passing and my experience of spending the last few hours of his life with him last week -- and yesterday, we gathered as a community to celebrate his life and to wish him, 'God Speed' on his journey to the other side.

It was an incredibly moving and powerful event. About 50 people gathered in our multi-purpose room to pay tribute to a man who never asked for much and always gave more than asked.

Poets read. Musicians played. Singers sang and the entire event was filled with the wonder of creative spirits sharing their gifts to honour a man who, though his time with us was short, shared the best of who he was in every way he could.

The day before, while working on a powerpoint of James photos, I came across a series of photos he'd taken of a truck from Lynx Snow Removal*. It had a telephone number under the company name so I called it.

A man answered. "Hi. This is Cliff."

"Hi," I replied and explained who I was and where I was calling from.

"I'm just going through photos that James took," I told him, "and came across one with your company name and number on it. Did James work for you?"


"Is he gone?"

"I'm afraid so."


"Last Tuesday. December 8."

"He worked for me for nine years. He was a great guy. A guy you could count on."

We chatted some more. He thanked me for letting him know. He wished he could make the memorial service but would be on a job. I promised to send him one of James' photos of his truck and we hung up.

The next day at the memorial service, Don, who manages our labour office would tell me, "Cliff's a good guy. He used to pay James not to work. In those times when he didn't have work for him he'd pay him because he didn't want him to go off and get another job and not be available when he needed him. He loved when it snowed. It meant he was working for his pay."

James would have been happy with this winter. Lots of snow. Lots of work. Lots of pay. Lots of opportunity to feel good about a job well-done.

It was important to him. Doing a good job. Making a contribution.

It came through clearly in the comments that were said and read at the service. A brother, sister and neice wrote in to share their stories of 'Jimmy' as he was known to them. "My Uncle Jimmy was my favourite," wrote Tammy his neice. "He babysat me when I was little and my mom was at work. He loved to cook. Even taught me how to make his famous Chinese spaghetti."

The portrait of a man's past.

In the brother's letter he spoke of Jimmy's drinking problems. "He was a good man, my baby brother. Our mother died when he was elevent and I believe it is the cause of all his drinking."

We never knew 'Jimmy' as a drinker. As a man haunted by a bottle he could not put down. In the years James was at the shelter, he was never under the influence. Never known to pick up a bottle and lose himself.

"It's what we gotta do sometimes to beat the bottle," said Richard who got up to speak about James at the service. "We gotta leave our families behind to let go of our addictions."

Fellow member of the Wild Rose Studio, Reg, stood up and read what he'd written about James. "A cry of loss for an artist who has left us. A remembrance of his creativity and vision. I did not know his story, those things that most people put value in, job, car, house and family. Howver, we did at brief moments share our vision, stories of his muse that drove him to capture moments that moved people. His endeavours to say, show, shock people into looking at this world in a different way.

We, our community, is less than now for an artist has left us. We do not know what he may have brought to us in the future. A Mona Lisa. A Monet. A photoghrah of the year. My god, what can we do but look at his footprints and try to see the sound, the smell, the taste, the feel of that moment."

Max, artist, musician, poet and carpenter once wrote, "I am a father, a son, brother, uncle, nephew, friend. I am an artist, writer, carpenter. Which of these is diminished because I am homeless?" In Max' eyes, James was never diminished. He was always a man of great worth. He wrote,

"Last week we lost a friend.

Last week, we lost an artist.

Last week we lost a confidant.

Last week we lost an advisor.

Last week we lost a part of us."

It was a moving statement about a man for whom the past was not what counted. James never shared much about his past. In sharing what was important to him today, however, he gave us many gifts. Friendship. Kindness. Consideration. Photographs of this city, a place where he knew every nook and cranny. A place he travelled, on foot, by transit, in a truck with a man who employed him and to whom he gave good value for a job well-done.

Well done James. Your life is done. Your job here on earth has come to an end. Travel into that other world, those other spaces far beyond this realm we know not of and be of gentle spirit. You left an impact. Your footprints are left upon our hearts. Your images are set upon our memories. You will be forever remembered as a man whose gentle spirit was a gift to be treasured forever more.

This video was taken by James at our Christmas art show in 2008.

No comments: