I remember the day so clearly. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and we sat outside on the deck. Jim Shaw looked very thin and his movement was labored, but his demeanor was as pleasant and laid-back as ever. My father sat with us that day, which was very unlike him. My dad was, at times, antisocial and awkward when we’d have company, but he was very fond of Jim. Even though they were complete opposites, Jim made my father feel at ease. We laughed and enjoyed each others’ company for a while, and though you could see that simply taking part in conversation was strenuous for Jim, he never acknowledged that there was anything different about this visit. Although, I do recall him making a joke about not buying any green bananas, in reference to his life-expectancy, but that was a common joke he tossed around over our years together. He eventually said goodbye, always maintaining that jovial grin. I knew it would be the last time I would see him.
Jim did give me one more gift: that old, beat up, duct taped Bible with his writing in its margins — it’s one of my most valued possessions, even though I can’t physically manage to hold and read through pages in books anymore, I know it’s there. Jim’s words mixed in with The Word. The Word existed before time began, and it is absolute Goodness and absolute Truth. There is no banality in morality; one either aligns themselves with it or stands outside of it, so there is a finality to morality. Moral relativists reject that notion and insist that the only thing that is true for everyone is that nothing is true for everyone. Personal morality is indeed an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp or instant classic or a little pregnant or common sense and conventional wisdom. Trust in The Good Book, not the Contradictionary.
‘Only the Good Die Young’ is a Billy Joel song that pokes fun at Catholics; and it was for this reason Jim held a grudge against the Piano Man, who is one of my favorites. I remembered teasing him saying, “But if Billy is right, you and I will live forever, so — fingers crossed.” Shaw was one of the finest men I’ve ever known, and he lived a full and nobble life in the noblest of professions. Immortality in physical form wasn’t in the cards. He spent the last few weeks of his life at his home with his wife and kids taking care of him. By this time, I had a personal computer that I could use via voice-recognition software, so I was able to dictate a letter to my friend and mentor, in an attempt to tell him how important he was to me. I told him that he was the best teacher I’d ever had, but he was also one of the best friends I could ever have. In my mind and heart Jim Shaw did attain immortality.
The day I found out of his passing I was at a friend’s house and my mother drove by, coming from Jim and I’s favorite, The Italian Kitchen. The mutual friend and owner of the restaurant gave her the news. As much as I knew it was coming eventually, of course you can never really prepare yourself for it.
I was in a sort of surreal trance as I made my way back to the house. It was strange, from then on I would be living in a world that didn’t have Jim Shaw. Thoughts like that were going through my head. When I got home my mother had a plate of spaghetti and meatballs prepared for lunch. To go along with the meal was an ice cold glass of Coke. It didn’t even dawn on me until I was about halfway through, as my mother and I sat there eating and talking about Jim, that this was the exact same meal that he brought to me on so many occasions. This place was a somewhat rare treat, not something we had regularly. I pointed out the coincidence to my mother and she said it hadn’t occurred to her either. Jim would always come bearing gifts, and somehow in our conversations he gathered that I liked Coca-Cola, so, the next thing you know, he’s bringing cases of the stuff; the same with the spaghetti and meatballs from IK. Maybe it was his way of saying goodbye, or letting me know that he was still with me.