Thursday, March 29, 2007

R.I.P. J.P.D.

Below is a post I have also placed in other blogs of mine. I wanted to post it here as well because this is the story of a single man who used his time to try to make this world a better place. He also lived his faith to the fullest; while I am not Catholic, I respected his beliefs and learned a lot about that particular tradition.

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I have lost a good friend, and the world has lost a good man.

Long pre-dating my days in the local activist community was my involvement online in areas such as anti-racism and homophobia. I became involved in two online communities: Matthew's Place, which is a mailing list discussing homophobia and other related issues by a group of people united over the horror of the death of Matthew Shepard, a college student in the U.S. who was beaten to death simply because he was gay. The other one is Stop Hate 2000, which also deals with homophobia, as well as racism, religious hatred, anti-Semitism, and a variety of other topics, all relating to hate crimes.

It was through these online venues that I met John Patrick Day. John, or JP as I always called him, lived in the same city as me (as did another volunteer with the same groups), so we would often get together for lunch or coffee. I'll never forget when JP and I finally decided to meet in person, and I walked in to the coffee shop to meet this charming Irishman with red hair, his trademark hats, and an unusual sense of fashion.

JP was like an eccentric uncle to me, full of wit and charm, and often a supportive shoulder when I was having problems in my family or personal life. When my mother was in an extended hospital stay, we spent an afternoon together to get me out of there for a while, and I will never forget the embrace we shared when we parted, as I was in pretty rough shape emotionally. That was John -- never judgemental, and always there when you needed him even when he was having problems of his own.

Sometimes JP, myself, and our mutual friend Gary would get together. We would discuss politics, religion, and other such things. Actually, Gary and John would get into it politically and my eyes would glaze over, but it was sometimes fun to watch. Gary is NDP and John was a diehard Liberal. I was only just starting to find my voice politically, and was more interested in the religious side of things. John was a devout Catholic, Gary an Evangelical Christian, and I'm Jewish, so we had pretty much the entire Western religious spectrum covered.

On Saturday, Gary contacted me to let me know that JP had passed away the previous Tuesday. JP died in his sleep, of as-yet undetermined causes. The news came to me as a shock, and it took a couple of days for the grief to take hold. The past few days have been extremely hard.

You see, I hadn't kept in touch with JP (or Gary for that matter) as much as I should have, as my career expanded and my involvement in the local activist community blossomed. This is something I will forever regret. I found an e-mail from JP in my Inbox from a couple months back, just as I was coming down with something awful that kept me home for about two weeks, and then got buried by an avalanche of e-mail. Compounding my grief is the fact that I let things slide and won't get a second chance to make up for it. Without the possibility of ever seeing him again, I already realize how much I miss him.

JP's funeral was this morning, and it was a beautiful celebration. I don't think I had a dry eye from the moment of the opening procession, to the final procession when "Danny Boy" was being played (what song could be more appropriate for an Irishman?). Afterwards we attended a reception at his sister's house and shared memories -- I had my little wallet-sized photo album and showed some photos of JP and I, including one where his cat Stella was trying to crawl onto my chest as JP tried to peel her off.

What else can I tell you about JP? He fought vigilantly for social justice in his own quiet way. He never got the spotlight or any glory, or any money for much of his work, but he lived according to his beliefs and was an example to others. He was a devout Catholic who walked his faith. He was strongly political and dedicated many hours to the Liberal party -- Anne McLellan even sent a message to be read at his funeral. But most of all he was a kind, compassionate, and just plain super nice person. I overheard someone say that John had a habit of picking up stray animals and stray people.

He indeed loved people and animals -- he had a dog, Jack, who had health problems but who he cared for until Jack died. He also had a cat named Stella (or, "her Ladyship," as he sometimes referred to her) who survives him. Some years ago JP had me take some pictures of Stella because she was starting to get up there in years. I find it quite ironic that Stella is still here, and JP isn't.

This blessing was on the memorial card handed out this morning:

Irish Blessing

May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be ever at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And the rain fall softly on your fields
And until we meet again, may G-d hold
You in the hollow of His hand.

And a poem:

Music, When Soft Voices Die
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

MUSIC, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory;
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
And heap'd for the beloved's bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.

We've also set up a memorial page for JP at the Stop Hate website.

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