My friend died today. His name was Jim. I'll be completely honest: he wasn't a best friend, or even a good friend. Just a friend, one of the trumpet players in two of the bands I play in. I don't know him all that well - in fact, I learned a lot more about him and his family in the last couple of days than I did in the past four or so years I've known him.
Thing is, he was one of those memorable people. You know what I mean? One of those people that everyone knows, because you can't not know him.
He wasn't anything out of the ordinary physically. Maybe about 6'1" is my guess, pretty strong since he was an automotive mechanic but not the big buff type. Curly gray hair, almost bald on the top. He had this face, though, the kind with crinkly lines around the eyes from smiling all the time. Which he did. Because he had this impish sense of humor and was always making jokes - but quiet ones. He was not the class clown, but the one who you'd suddenly realize had silently put on a funny hat in the middle of the concert. Which he did. Because he had a lot of funny hats. One of the best came with a long mane of curly blond hair that cascaded down his back.
At every concert for the "concert band of adults who want to play music again", our conductor likes to point out to the audience that we have players in their 70s and 80s (and one in his 90s, even), so she always asks us to raise our hands "if you're over 40", "over 50", etc. Jim would raise his hand for each one, even as she headed up to "over 100". (He only just hit 62 last month, if you were wondering.) He'd happily take the blame for any mistake we made during rehearsal... even if it was obviously the flutes who did it. He'd do anything to get other people to laugh - as long as it was self-deprecating. He never made a joke at anyone else's expense. That wasn't funny to him.
That's what really set him apart, really: he loved everyone and went to great lengths to help and support us. I remember, when I first joined the band - and this was a huge step for me, as I hadn't played music in over twenty-five years and never really did it that well to begin with, and I was walking into a concert band that had been together for over a decade - I really had no idea how to get started, and he took the time to come and say hi. We talked for a little bit, nothing long or deep, and I remember wondering if maybe he knew me and I had met him somewhere else and just forgot, because he made me feel welcome and comfortable. It was obvious from the get-go that he was an important person in the band, but he talked to me. That's what he was like.
And he was always like that. If anyone needed anything, Jim was there to help. He set aside a room in his business (he owned a garage) to house the percussion and music library of the marching band. The marching band also rehearsed there, and if the concert band didn't have a place to rehearse on some weeks, we were welcome to play there as well. He transported all the percussion and equipment to and from gigs. Though he was a trumpet player - and a fantastic one, as well - he'd set aside his trumpet and take up the bass drum during parades, because, well, he didn't want us small women (all of the percussionists were short and female) struggling with it. He loved music - his garage always had the stereo playing the best big band and jazz - but he'd sacrifice his own performance so that everyone else could enjoy themselves.
At rehearsal a couple of months ago, he put down his trumpet and came out to help me change my flat tire, and he ended up missing half the rehearsal. I told him I owed him a beer or three; I never got the chance to pay up.
He was just a nice guy, a wonderful person. I'm trying to think of how else to describe him, but words are failing me. I keep thinking over and over that he's the kind of person we need more of, and that though he wasn't a close friend of mine, that I only ever saw him once a week at rehearsal and usually never said more than hi to him even then, my life, and the world, is quite a bit emptier now. Even if it's only because that goofy smile of his is gone.
Farewell, Jim. I miss you.
Jim from probably about 15 years ago